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Copyright & Teach Act

History of Copyright Law

What is Copyright, and why is it important? The first copyright laws go back to 1790 in the United States and there have been a variety of revisions since then.

The 1976 Copyright revision was the first major change in copyright law in many years, since 1909. It set forth to extend the definition of who may make a legal copy of what, and when it is necessary to compensate the author for use of a work. When the 1909 law was put into place, there were no photocopy machines, tape recorders, or television broadcasts. It was primarily for print media.

But even the major revisions of 1976 could not address digital issues, as the VCR was not yet in widespread use, and personal computers were still a dream. The Internet did not exist, and there were no PDF files, CDs, DVDs, mp3 files, HDTV or iPods either.

Even with this careful attempt at reason, the law is still being tested and is fraught with concepts that are subject to interpretation by the courts. Publishers interpret it one way, and educators interpret in another way, leading to potentially extreme responses on both sides.

Copyright law has continued to be revised over the years; for example, ownership of works published after January 1, 1978 now extends 70 years past the death of the creating individual before going into public domain. 

The Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 is another recent revision that forbids the circumvention of technological protection measures, and Digital Rights Management (DRM) adds more complexity to the issue of copyright.

There are four sections of the 1976 law that are of particular interest to educators and librarians:

  • Section 107  “Fair Use” (see item below) permits use of works for criticism, commentary, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.
  • Section 108  Allows libraries to copy with the expectation of non-commercial use. This section permits photocopies to be sent via interlibrary loan and for making archival back-ups of selected materials.
  • Section 109  First sale doctrine, which means the copyright is paid with the first sale, and any subsequent sales will not require an additional copyright fee. However, fees may be required for any use of the material beyond its original intent.
  • Section 110  Teaching and distance education rules.