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Fair Use Q&A

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Dear ICA, 

I’ve been pursuing some research on the evolution of terms in communication theory, and want to do some big-data analysis on entire runs of some key journals. Unfortunately, my library won’t let me do that. They say it violates copyright. Can that be true? 


Dear Outraged, 

The journals of course are full of copyrighted material, and unless it’s from before 1923, odds are good that the full run is still in copyright. With the advent of digital research tools, more and more scholars are doing what is known as non-consumptive research--looking at entire collections of material, but not for the purpose for which they were created. While communication scholars did not consider this when they created the ICA’s Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Scholarly Research in Communication, librarians did in writing their Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries. You can see there that Section Seven, “Creating databases to facilitate non-consumptive research uses (including search),” details how to employ fair use to allow researchers to do their work. This could be helpful for your library.

Unfortunately, however, many libraries have signed contracts with the vendors of these journals that prohibit them from allowing non-consumptive research. If your library signed such a contract, they cannot help you. Contractual terms, under U.S. law, override the right of fair use.  

This is why it is so important for your librarian to understand your research need, and for you to set aside your outrage long enough to help them understand it. When that contract is renewed, they should strike the clauses that keep you and people like you from doing important research. 


Patricia Aufderheide for ICA

Got a question? paufder@american.edu

Tags:  December 2019 

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