Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Book Review: Copyright - Interpreting the Law for Libraries, Archives and Information Services

Charles Oppenheim sees much to like in the new edition of this work by a well-known authority but identifies one potentially major drawback.

This is the fifth edition of what is, obviously, a very successful title. The previous edition was published in 2004, and five years is a long time in copyright law and practice, so it was felt no doubt that a new edition was due. However, as I will explain at the end of this review, that decision may have been unsound.

The book follows its normal format of a series of questions regarding UK copyright law and practice, with brief answers. The author is a well-known UK copyright expert and has a gentle, witty writing style, which makes it possible to read the book cover-to-cover if you so wanted. The main chapters, covering the basics of copyright, the major media types, licences, electronic copyright and other matters, is followed by lists of useful addresses and sources of information, and a good index [1].

It is always difficult to achieve the magic combination of accuracy and approachability in legal matters, but Cornish largely manages this. I did identify errors and niggles though. For example, question 2.11 [1] on copyright in facts fails to cross-refer to protection of collections of facts in databases, which is covered elsewhere in the book; the claim in 3.19 and 4.27 that a library, archive or museum when given a bequest of unpublished works can assume that it has also acquired the copyright in such materials unless it is told otherwise is incorrect; in 4.3, the author makes reference to 'trivial works' without explaining what he means by the term; in 4.37 it is claimed that a slide or PowerPoint of a book page made for teaching cannot be made legally, but this is not true, as there could be an argument that the reproduction is for criticism or review, and so is permitted (in any case, the CLA's scanning licence will also often allow this); when discussing the communication to the public right in 4.54, the author fails to note that placing copyright material on an Intranet or as an e-mail attachment is also prohibited; in 6.8, it is claimed that someone who transcribes an interview will own the copyright in the transcription, when in fact the transcriber will jointly own the copyright with the interviewer and interviewee; in 11.64, the author claims it is always an offence to remove or alter rights management information, when in fact it is only an offence when it is done with the intention of enabling or concealing copyright infringement - a very important distinction.

Finally, in 9.7, it is claimed that all databases enjoy database right, but then later the author corrects himself by noting that not all databases get database right; however, the author then gets into a tangle about what qualifies for database right, stating that to get database right, once must have used effort in obtaining the data, when in fact the law states that one must have used effort in either obtaining, verifying or presenting the information – a quite different thing. As a result, the author makes incorrect statements about when database right does, or does not exist. This is the most important mistake in the book.

The list of recommended readings includes one book that is 10 years old and is now seriously dated, as well as failing to note the latest edition of Butterworths Intellectual Property Law Handbook [2]. In addition, the list of recommended Web sites is somewhat restricted, and certainly the web2rights site [3] should have been given a mention.

I was surprised to see no mention of Web 2.0, wikis, blogs and so on, or any mention of cloud computing. All of these applications raise significant copyright issues, and libraries and archives are getting increasingly involved in storing or creating such materials. There was also little mention of informed risk management, which is really what copyright is about for information professionals. No mention is made in the book of the important exception for judicial proceedings, which libraries with significant law or sometimes other collections may find themselves having to rely on. The Copyright Tribunal is mentioned several times in the book without any explanation of what it does.

Finally, an explanation of my remark at the start of this review. As I write this review, there are major copyright law amendments being considered by the UK Parliament; it is likely that by April 2010 we will know whether they have been passed, and in what form. If there is no change to the law, then this book will serve well. But the chances are there will be significant changes to the law, which will make this (and indeed other books on copyright) obsolete. So the timing of this new edition is very unfortunate. Despite the book's generally high accuracy and readability, I do not recommend purchase until the UK legal position is clarified.


  1. For a list of the contents of Copyright, see below.
  2. Butterworths Intellectual Property Law Handbook (9th Revised edition), Phillips, Jeremy, LexisNexis UK, December 2009, ISBN 9781405737081.
  3. The Web2Rights project http://www.web2rights.org.uk/

Author's note
List of abbreviations
Section 1 Definition and law
Section 2 What is covered by copyright?
Section 3 Rights and limitations
Section 4 Literary, dramatic and musical works
Section 5 Artistic works
Section 6 Sound recordings and performers' rights
Section 7 Films, videos and DVDs
Section 8 Broadcasts
Section 9 Databases
Section 10 Licensing schemes and licences
Section 11 Computer programs, websites and the electronic world
Section 12 Other matters
Appendix 1 List of useful addresses
Appendix 2 Selected further sources of information
Appendix 3 Statutory declaration forms

Author Details

Charles Oppenheim
Head of Department of Information Science
Loughborough University

Email: c.oppenheim@lboro.ac.uk
Web site: http://www.lboro.ac.uk/departments/dis/people/coppenheim.html

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