Today the Consortium of College and University Media Centers has announced two very important moves to empower its members and the many constituencies that look to them for guidance about proper use of copyrighted media. First, they’ve endorsed the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries as a vision of fair use practice that reflects where their membership currently stands on fair use. In endorsing the #librarianscode CCUMC joins a formidable group of library associations and allied groups:
The American Library Association
The Association of College and Research Libraries
The Music Library Association
The Art Libraries Society of North America
The College Art Association
The Visual Resources Association
Like any document reflecting community norms, the Code will grow and thrive as it is embraced by the practitioners on the front lines whom it is intended to help. The CCUMC’s support makes the Code that much stronger as a tool for libraries facing fair use questions.
The second thing CCUMC did was officially retire its 1996 Fair Use Guidelines for Educational Multimedia. If you work with multimedia in an educational context, you’ve probably encountered some of the fair use rules of thumb from the guidelines, like “Up to 10% or 3 minutes, whichever is less” for “motion media,” or “[u]p to 10%, but in no event more than 30 seconds, of the music and lyrics from an individual musical work.”
If you look up fair use in the Copyright Act, you’ll find an expansive provision with no mention of counting words or percentages. In the aftermath of the passage of the 1976 Copyright Act, many practitioners worried that there was perhaps not enough information in the law to guide practitioners who must apply the doctrine frequently. Over the years many communities have promulgated rules of thumb to mitigate this uncertainty, but over time those rules have not kept pace with case law. If you peruse the scholarly literature, you’ll see that fair use has blossomed into a robust protection for transformative and educational uses that can happily accommodate uses that exceed any particular numerical limits often associated with it, and that the case law and the various codes of best practice have provided reliable guidance without imposing numerical boundaries. It’s wonderful to see CCUMC’s guidance grow and evolve along with the relevant law and practice. This is big news for media professionals in higher education, and for all the students and professors who rely on their wise counsel as they work to achieve their missions.