Your Right to Copyright: International Perspectives

Copyright Law by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

Copyright is everywhere: from the music we hear on the radio to the cute animal videos we watch on YouTube. As technology continues to improve the ability for people to share various media, copyright law has only become more important both at the individual and international level. Despite the growing importance of copyright, a resource does not currently exist that provides a comprehensive and authoritative guide to international copyright law. A resource like this would be highly useful to the U-M library and its patrons. Certainly, many professors, students, and researchers want to know if they are legally using content in the course of their activities: whether that’s granting students access to a chapter from a book online, making a remix of a song for a group project, or showing a movie at a club event. While working as a Library Scholar for the U-M Library Copyright Office (LCO), I have realized the complexity of copyright law and the prevalence of copyright issues in university settings. Reading through hundreds of pages of complex legal explanations and jargon was enough to tell me that a copyright resource would be a huge help to the library. It was thus an honor for me to work with the Michigan Library researching and developing a solid background in copyright law.

Throughout the Michigan Library Scholars internship, I read and summarized the copyright laws of the U.S., Mexico, Germany, and France, as well as a few international treaties on copyright law. In most cases, I spent a significant amount of time reading and writing down information about each country in a general form with various topic headings. Half the battle was, of course, comprehending what I was reading; although, asking questions and looking at a glossary of definitions helped. After reading through each of the countries’ laws, the next step was to summarize that information comprehensively, so that a wide variety of people would be able to understand and use the resource I was creating. By talking to my mentors, selectively choosing content, and using readability applications such as the Hemingway Editor, I was able to create easily understandable summaries for each country. Each summary breaks down major topics in copyright law, offering a crash course guide to copyright concepts for anyone looking to learn more about copyright law in that country.

One of the biggest challenges of this project was its scope. Each country has very detailed laws, to the point where it would have been nearly impossible to create a quality summary for thirty countries in twelve weeks. In response to the challenge time posed, I quickly learned to adapt to the difficulties of reading complex legal documents and better economize my time. As I became more familiar with legal material, I started scanning the headings of the texts I was looking at to determine what was worthwhile to read. I looked at the topic sentences within the texts and honed in on main arguments, allowing myself to organize my thoughts from the start and properly allocate my time. I also learned to be realistic with myself by reigning in my expectations and reassuring myself that it was not anticipated that I would finish every summary. I often had to remind myself of the large amount of work I had to do for each summary and the effort I put into the project. While I was often hyper-focused on creating a finished product and having something to show for my work, I came to realize that changing a plan doesn’t mean there was a setback. If the final product is significantly better in the end, a change of plans can be extremely beneficial. 

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my Michigan Library Scholar experience. The copyright project allowed me to extend my love of research and interest in law into working on a resource of which I am proud. I have learned more about copyright than I could have ever hoped and have become increasingly aware of copyright issues in my everyday life. Did that hair salon have a blanket license to use the music I heard? Did that painting in the museum fall into the public domain? As a result of this internship, I feel confident that I can not only answer those questions but could also ace a copyright law class when I (hopefully) go to law school later on. At the same time, my experience with Michigan Library Scholars expanded my understanding of the professional world and possible career options, by giving me insight into the versatility of a law degree and the ability to use it within an academic setting. 

While my journey with Michigan Library Scholars has ended, my time working with the LCO has not. I look forward to continuing to work on the project and developing a final resource. I hope that the completed resource will allow people to have a quick reference guide on copyright that makes their lives easier when trying to determine the legality of their use. As this portion of the internship comes to an end, I would like to thank my mentors, Raven and Yuanxiao, for their continued guidance throughout this process and their expertise. I would also like to thank the LCO and the support of Melissa and Justin throughout the internship.