In honor of Fair Use Week (Feb. 23rd – 27th), we have 5 Questions for our Scholarly Communication Librarian, Molly Keener. As the Scholarly Communication Librarian, Molly supports faculty and graduate students in understanding and managing copyright, new methods and models of scholarly publishing (including open access), and sharing scholarship. In her 6 years at ZSR Library, she has assisted countless faculty with thorny copyright questions, managed the Open Access Fund to support publication, and championed greater sharing of scholarship created at Wake Forest University.

What is Fair Use and why is it important for libraries and higher education?

Fair use is a provision within the Copyright Act that gives people the right to make limited uses of copyrighted content without permission from the copyright owner(s). Generally, fair use covers news reporting, commentary, satire, parody, and educational uses. For libraries, fair use is important because it is what enables us to offer services such as electronic course reserves, for our patrons to make photocopies of materials for personal use, for our colleagues digitizing content in our special collections and archives…the list goes on. In higher education, fair use is critical for generating new scholarship and expanding knowledge: articles can be shared, poetry can be read aloud, films can be shown and critiqued, and works can be excerpted and cited.

What are some of the common misconceptions about the Fair Use doctrine?

One common misconception is that fair use is hard to use. It isn’t (well, not always). In fact, I wager that everyone reading this has relied on fair use–albeit without knowing it. Ever shared a photo online that you didn’t take? Get permission? No? That’s a fair use. Ever used a direct quote in a paper (with double-quotes and attribution, of course)? That’s also a fair use.

Another common misconception is that you cannot use a work in its entirety and it still be fair. That may be true in some circumstances, but not all. There are plenty of times where using the full work is necessary for your purpose and is justifiably a fair use. For example, our family and friends sang “Happy Birthday” to my son last summer when he turned 5. “Happy Birthday” is still protected by copyright, but we all sang the song in full, without nary a concern for copyright. Why? Fair use (and fun!). We didn’t limit ourselves to only one stanza, or to n% of the song. People try to apply bright line limits to fair use, often in an attempt to establish clear yes/no boundaries, but those bright lines are difficult to establish and apply unilaterally, as each instance of fair use must be assessed independently.

When we’re presented with a copyright question at the library, we don’t immediately say, “Nope, sorry, can’t;” rather, we evaluate for fair use, assess our risk, and make informed decisions. We don’t let ourselves be unduly intimidated by copyright.

What do you enjoy most about your role at ZSR?

That I never know what question I will encounter next! I’m the only librarian in ZSR to do exactly what I do, so I am the go-to for questions relating to copyright and scholarly publishing. My work has necessitated researching French and EU copyright laws, emailing British publishers, writing letters to Congressmen in Washington, and explaining copyright basics to folks on campus. I’ve even researched copyright and trademark as it relates to the circus–twice!

When you help someone make sense of what was murky, be it related to copyright, open access, funder compliance, or publishing agreements, it’s a wonderful feeling. Witnessing their “Aha!” moment is rewarding.

What areas of your personality strengthen the work that you do?

I am details-oriented, and love an intellectual challenge. I also am not afraid to call a spade a spade, so I am direct in my assessment. That said, I’m also willing to acknowledge when I don’t know enough and will seek guidance from my peers at other institutions.

What has been the biggest influence on your work?

Chance. For many years, my sights were set on law school, until I landed my first library job working in Circulation for my father’s freshman year roommate when I was a sophomore at my parents’ alma mater (that lovely light blue school down the road a ways…shh…). I then decided to become a librarian, with aims to work at a small, private liberal arts college, probably in reference. But a chance conversation with my grad school advisor led to a summer internship at Wake Forest’s medical school library, the Coy C. Carpenter Library, where a year later I landed my first professional position. When I started at Carpenter, I’d never heard of scholarly communication, but was asked within my first month on the job to revamp their program. I have many, many more examples of how chance–chance encounters, chance conversations, chances to say yes–has influenced my career and work. Much like not knowing what questions I’ll encounter, I never know when I’ll have my next chance…but I’ll likely take it!