Copyright: What You Need to Know • Policies: Your New Best Friend

I am a huge fan of policies and procedures. Some people roll their eyes when they hear the word "policy" and just think about red tape but as with so many things, I want to emphasize that policies, and with that word, I incorporate procedures. Policy is a very loosely used term. Policies are a tool so they can be very helpful to you or they can be completely useless. If you have a 20-page policy that doesn't make sense to anybody, or one that sits on the shelf, one copy sits on the shelf and gets dusty and nobody ever sees it, there's no purpose to having that policy, then it's been a waste of time to create that policy.

Policies can be very valuable. The reason I love them so much is because when you have a good set of policies and procedures and use them, they do help reduce confusion and uncertainty among whoever they're applying to, the staff or your users or students, whoever it may be. They increase clarity and understanding, they increase efficiency and consistency because they give some guidance to everything from how to interpret or understand a certain situation or type of question to, "What do we do when this happens?"

They can also serve as a fall back when you need something to point to to say "This is why I did this." One question that I get from K through 12 on a somewhat regular basis is, "Well, what about when a teacher comes to me and wants to do something that I know the law doesn't allow her to do so, I tell her no and then the principal tells me to do it anyway?" It's not to say that that can't happen when you have policies in place but if your policy addresses that type of situation and you were following the policy, then that can help.

Policies also help fill in gaps in the law, and that is maybe the biggest, big picture role that policies can play in a copyright context in that you do encounter so many situations where the law is not quite clear on what to do. That's been addressed in various ways in the previous lessons. For example, fair use is a very gray area. Your policy might address a particular type of situation that occurs repeatedly at your institution where you rely on fair use to say, "Okay, when this situation arises, this is what we will do, this is what we will allow, this is what we won't do or won't allow."

Let me talk a bit more specifically about a policy and maybe that will make more sense. Policies can be a combination. It probably should be a combination of somewhat general "Policy," with a big P. I call it statements, like "Your institution is committed to upholding the law," which means not just protecting the rights of copyright owners, but also the rights of users of protected works in maintaining the balance of copyrights, something like that and then, you include the procedures about how you're going to do that. That's what I call "policy" with a little P. The words don't matter. You can call this whatever you want.

Your institution may or may not have something titled "Copyright Policy." But copyright issues could be addressed in any one or more of the handful of different types of documents such as an acceptable use policy. It probably has one or two provisions in it that touch on copyright. When you are looking at writing or updating or reviewing your copyright policies, you need to think about where those issues might be addressed, not just thinking of one document titled, "Copyright Policy." What a copyright policy should address and what it should say depends specific to every institution. It depends on your institution.

It should address the situations that you need it to, it should address the risk tolerance level, not just address but should be focused on the risk tolerance level of your community. For example, some institutions are going to be comfortable going further under fair use than others. Some may actually decide that they want to keep fair use restricted to the limitations put forth in the quantitative guidelines, which I hate to see but I understand. As long as you make that decision knowingly and you know why you decided to do that, that's okay.

There's no single policy that's right for every institution. Both the content, as in what issues are you going to address, and what you say about them, are going to differ. Remember, it's a tool that you should use to help you in whatever way it can be helpful for you. Again, that's why it will differ from institution to institution. You should think through the process, be holistic about what you're doing, and remember, bottom line, if a policy is not usable, meaning if it doesn't make sense to people or it's too long whatever, and/or is not used, then it's useless and you've wasted your time, right?

Have representatives of appropriate portions of your community involved in writing your policy, make sure that it's consistent, that it addresses what you needed to and then educate, educate, educate. Make sure that everyone who needs to know about it does, that they've read it, make it widely available, review it every so often, maybe once a year, to make sure that it's still up to date, not just with the law but with your needs, and remind people on a regular basis that that policy is there to help them. My takeaway on this is policies can be your best friend in a copyright situation.

This lesson is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information regarding application of copyright law in schools. Nothing in this lesson is intended to constitute legal advice, and nothing herein should be considered legal advice. If legal advice is required, the reader should consult a licensed attorney in his or her own state. Neither ABC-CLIO, LLC, nor the author makes any warranties or representations concerning the information contained in this lesson or the use to which it is put.

MLA Citation McCord, Gretchen. "Copyright: What You Need to Know: Policies: Your New Best Friend." School Library Connection, September 2015,

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Entry ID: 1980792

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