Compact Copyright: Quick Answers to Common Questions. By Sara R. Benson. Chicago: ALA Editions, 2021. 163p. $54.99 softcover (ISBN 978-0-8389-3756-3).

Anyone working in libraries, museums, or other similar organizations has more than likely encountered a scenario involving copyright. Knowing how to deal with these situations when they occur is key in today’s library landscape of electronic resources, emergency access to copyrighted materials, and online teaching and learning. This new publication provides a basic introduction to copyright in the United States to help address these questions.

Benson’s aim is to provide a foundational understanding of U.S. copyright law to make informed decisions. She has deep knowledge and expertise in copyright and holds both a JD and MSLIS. She has been a lecturer at the University of Illinois College of Law for ten years and has been actively involved in copyright conversations during that time. It is thanks to her expertise that she breaks down the legal jargon on copyright, providing an “easy-to-read” (ix) discussion on the laws.

Benson does this by similarly structuring each of the chapters, which can be read in or out of sequence. These sections are: the law, discussion of that law cited, common scenarios, and a final section on tools and resources. Her discussions explain and break down the law, while the common scenarios help to envision how to address day-to-day issues. She includes case studies and numerous illustrations to help readers better grasp concepts. Because copyright law and the questions we face are complex, the last section offers tools and resources to learn more about the law and where to find help. Lastly, Benson has included a checklist for fair use that can be used when faced with issues at work. As a result, this book is perfect for those with limited or no knowledge of copyright.

There are a number of engaging topics. This reviewer would like to highlight the following: legal advice, computer code and creative works, terms and duration of copyright acts, fair use, meaning of commercial use and market impact, electronic reserves, controlled digital lending, open educational resources (OER), and Creative Commons licenses. With regard to legal advice, this reviewer appreciated Benson’s clarity that she is not providing legal advice. “This book focuses on United States copyright law […]; however, nothing in this book constitutes legal advice. […] as such the aim of this book is to help readers make decisions that are more informed, and hopefully, less fraught with stress and uncertainty” (x). In her discussions on the law, she frequently emphasizes the need to reach out to general council at one’s institution. What this book helps with is to better understand the issue at hand, to know how to frame it, who to talk to at your institution, and where to get more information, if necessary.

The question of computer code as a creative work was thought-provoking. Not only do library technology staff often contribute coding efforts, but research data librarians, metadata specialists, or institutional repository staff may code as well. And of course, many faculty members and information technology specialists in many types of institutions write computer code as creative endeavors. Benson is clear that “copyright is about creativity” with it following that “copyright law even views computer code as a type of literary work and, as such, protects the work of authors in writing code language as well” (5). In this, she anticipated this reviewer’s next question on how creativity as seen through the lens of copyright differs from facts, trademarks, or patents.

Trying to understand the terms and duration of copyright seems at times a byzantine task. Benson visually delineates the different copyright acts such as the Copyright Act of 1909 or the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, distinguishing the beginning and end date of each respective act as well as their overlapping terms. She adds information on how to understand copyright for unpublished works in relation to whether copyright was renewed or registered. At the end of chapter 3, she cites two sources to search copyright that are worth mentioning: the online Catalogue of Copyright Entries (CCE) and the Stanford Copyright Renewal Database (30).

In Benson’s discussion on fair use, she clarifies the meaning of the heart of the work, market-value impact, and what constitutes commercial use. Her common scenarios deal predominately with questions around electronic reserves such as professors asking to make available copies of a section or an entire book, DVD, or other resource for their course. Benson includes a section on text mining and how we deal with it. She cites the HathiTrust Digital Library (HDL) case, where the Authors Guild sued HDL in 2012 because users could search words in copyrighted works. The audience might also remember when Google was sued for their snippet view, which Benson also mentions to underscore the concept of what makes a work transformative or not.

The explanation on controlled digital lending and Creative Commons licenses is worthwhile. Benson is clear that both of these topics are not related to specific laws but stem from the laws on fair use, first sale, and contract law. For controlled digital lending, she uses the Emergency Temporary Access Services (ETAS) for copyrighted works in the HDL during COVID-19 as an example. Benson’s visualization of Creative Commons licenses succinctly demonstrates how licenses differ in addition to whether those licenses are an OER. This is the first time that this reviewer has seen such a comparison and found it both timely and helpful.

This reviewer was able to gain a better understanding of U.S. copyright law and found the resources and tools practical. Though the section on the law itself can be difficult to read, Benson’s discussions are much easier as she deconstructs legal jargon and adds ample examples of how to understand that law. The addition of footnotes and references throughout the guide provide ample opportunity to learn more and the ability to find help from diverse sources. Benson’s guide will provide a foundation and a quick reference for anyone who encounters questions on copyright.—Jennifer M. Eustis (jeustis@umass.edu), University of Massachusetts Amherst


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