Document Type


Publication Date



This essay considers the application and adaptation of copyright law to the library of the future. In this "library without walls," works will be accessible by computer to users near and far. While a printed book usually is read by only one person at a time, that same book in digital format may be simultaneously consulted by as many users as have PCs linked by modem to the library. Where collecting quotations from printed sources today requires transcription or photocopying, in the library of the future it may be possible to download and print out excerpts, or even the entire work, through the user's personal computer.

All of these uses involve reproductions or transmissions of the accessed works. Unless the works are in the public domain, these uses, if unauthorized, may be copyright infringements – at least under today's doctrines. Are literary property rights as we have known them inimical to a networked environment? Or can there be copyright without walls? If copyright requires "walls," what will replace it, and will the replacement prove more satisfactory to libraries and their users? Although some librarians have lamented the restrictive effects of copyright, and perceived overreaching applications by publishers, a world without copyright may prove even less user-friendly. The reason is simple: in such a world, the information supplier, relying on contract, forgoes the benefits of the copyright law, but also evades important limitations on the copyright monopoly, notably the fair use privilege. In such a world, librarian-users might look back on existing copyright law with wistful nostalgia.


Intellectual Property Law | Law