Complete Copyright for K-12 Librarians and Educators [Review]

reviewed by Kay Flowers

Complete Copyright for K-12 Librarians and Educators
Carrie Russell
Chicago, IL: ALA Editions, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0-1083-2, softcover
192 pages, $50.00
eEditions PDF e-book, $40.00

Copyright is a complex subject, and practical books that address copyright issues in day-to-day settings are few and far between.  Carrie Russell’s Complete Copyright for K-12 Librarians and Educators, however, is one of the practical reads.  Written for K-12 teachers and librarians, and using a school as a backdrop, the book addresses many of the common and new copyright questions that arise in the K-12 setting in a light and engaging manner. In her conversation with the reader, the author acknowledges the complexity of copyright while offering evidence and suggestions on the best interpretations available.

Carrie Russell speaks from extensive experience.  She is the director of the Program on Public Access to Information in the Office of Information Technology Policy of the American Library Association.  As part of its concern with access to information, the Program monitors copyright and its role in providing public access through fair use.  In her introduction to the book, Russell mentions that many of the issues covered were originally questions she was asked in earlier presentations.

The strongest element in the book is the review of current uses of copyrighted material, from digitized books to downloading music and everything in between.  Every chapter is presented in terms of activities that are common in schools but can be murky in terms of copyright.  One example is the music video.  Many students enjoy making their own music videos, using copyrighted music and/or copyrighted images.  Such videos can be used as projects in classes, so understanding their copyright implications is essential.

Another strength of this book is that the author presents copyright questions in terms of a conversation between the teacher and the school librarian.  Both are encouraged to conduct a fair use evaluation of any proposed use of copyrighted works.  In this way, the librarian does not always say “no,” and the teacher is encouraged to examine her instructional goals as part of the evaluation.

The author places a strong emphasis on fair use and the practice of conducting fair use evaluations for any proposed activity involving copyrighted material.  This emphasis is in purposeful contrast to reliance on the guidelines that have directed copyright policies in the past.  In fact, the author notes that guidelines are not law and do not carry the force of law.  She also points out that though guidelines were written as a safe haven, and were never meant to represent the maximums allowed under the fair use doctrine, they have, nevertheless, been interpreted in that way.  Too many school districts and teachers are reluctant to test fair use beyond the guidelines, so the institution and its instructors have limited their teaching options.

The supplemental material in the book includes information on a 2008 copyright survey sent to members of LM-Net (discussion group for school library media specialists).   The copyright guidelines mentioned above are also provided as appendices.  There are several sets of guidelines that have been developed in the years since the Copyright Act of 1976, varying from interlibrary loan to multimedia projects. Regardless of the author’s emphatic support of fair use, the guidelines are part of the history of copyright policy, and teachers and librarians should be aware of them.

The only weakness in the book is the placement of information about copyright lawsuits so early in the text.  The complexity of copyright litigation is stultifying, and introducing it in Chapter 2 might discourage further reading.

Any library that provides support for K-12 teaching would benefit from acquiring this book.  School libraries are the obvious first choice.  Universities and college libraries that support departments of education should also consider including this work in their teacher education collections as a resource for pre-service teachers.

Kay Flowers is currently the Director of Academic Programs in the Student Success Center at Idaho State University.


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