Righting Copywrongs

January 06, 1985

"Copyright: a $50-million Copying Caper" (by Walter Wager, Dec. 23) is a misleading distortion of the 1976 copyright law's intent and specifics. We are a great nation of non-readers and passers-along of scuttlebutt. During the last eight years, I have found not one person who owns or has read a copy of the copyright law. The university signs and other such goings-on merely reflect that most persons have not read it to this day.

Have you? It requires no Philadelphia lawyer.

The fact is, most photocopying done in college music departments and the like is quite legal, despite Wager's spotty examples and scare-off tactics. At the end of one paragraph he does parenthetically mention "A fair-use provision does permit certain classroom uses."

Section 106 sets out "Exclusive rights in copyrighted works." In five brief sentences these rights are enumerated. However, sections 107 through 112 concern "Limitations on exclusive rights." A reading of these 13 pages might enlighten Wager.

I would like to quote what the law actually says about photocopying. In Section 107 it states:

"Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by production in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright."

The question is always of what use the photocopied material is to be put: whether "of a commercial nature or . . . for nonprofit educational purposes," to quote the law again. Wager constantly appends the word "illegal" to "copying," with the implication that all copying is illegal.

The fact is that my experience shows that few people, whether educators, journalists, lawyers, or former public relations directors, know the law. The sensationalistic Longwood College case would scare anyone, but Wager is short on facts.

This scratches the surface. It is a subject you might look into in depth, avoiding purple opinions and consulting honest lawyers (finding these in itself an investigative project). Pomona

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