It Takes Sara Benson

It takes a campus podcast
It Takes a Campus
It Takes Sara Benson

Sara Benson’s Illinois Experts Profile

Full Transcript
Have you ever thought about what really goes in to supporting digital scholarship? Well, some may say it takes a village, but here at the University of Illinois, it’s bigger than that. It takes a campus. The Scholarly Commons will be interviewing experts across campus about all the new and exciting things that are happening to support digital scholarship. We will sit down with a specialist to learn about what they do, how they do it, and why they got started working in their field. Hear what we mean when we say it takes a campus to do what we do.
In today’s episode we have Sara Benson, Copyright Librarian at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Main Library. She is interviewed by the previous graduate assistant of the Scholarly Commons, Billy Tringali who is now the Law Librarian for Outreach at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Here we go.
Billy: Hello and welcome to the library experts podcast at the University of Illinois at Urban-Champaign. I am Billy Tringali with the Scholarly Commons and I am here with Sara Benson, our Copyright Librarian. Sara, thank you so much for being on my podcast.
Sara: Well, welcome to the wild and wooly world of podcasting.
Billy: I’m very excited to be getting involved with it. This is going to be a very fun project. You have a podcast and I think that would be a cool thing to open with discussing.
Sara: Sure. So, I have a podcast. It is called Copyright Chat. It’s a little hard to find on iTunes because when you search for it, if you write out the word ‘copyright’ you don’t find it. If you search my name, you will find it, or if you put the copyright symbol in there and then you put the copyright symbol ‘hat’. So, maybe my name was selected poorly but I like it.
Billy: I like it a lot!
Sara: Yeah and it—and on the podcast, I talk to a variety of experts on copyright. Most, a lot of them are copyright librarians but not all, and we just talk about current copyright issues and it is really, pretty fun, I think, and so, it’s not meant only for experts, it’s meant for lay audiences, as well, so I invite anyone who is interested to listen.
Billy: And that leads very well into your field of expertise. You are the Copyright Librarian for the University. What does that mean? What does it mean to be a Copyright Librarian?
Sara: That’s a really good question. I think it varies depending on the institution. So, some folks at their job are the copyright police.
Billy: Oooh
Sara: If they have to enforce copyright all over campus…
Billy: Oh wow.
Sara: …and knock on doors and be very unwelcomed. Luckily, that’s not my job.
Billy: That’s great!
Sara: My job is more of an advocate with, for instance, the U.S. Copyright Office. If there are changes that would help libraries and librarians, I will respond to Call for Comments.
Billy: Wow
Sara: I, also, do a lot of educating. So, I do guest lectures. I consider my podcast part of my education arm and I talk to pretty much anyone who will talk to me and that includes staff members, it includes book store staff who are making, say, copies for course packs, it includes people who are making MOOCs [Massive Open Online Course], it includes faculty, students, even community members, since our library is a public library…
Billy: Yes
Sara: …from a land grant institution. If I get a phone call from, say, a local artist about, you know, what are my rights and copyright, what should I do with this or that, I will send them to information. But the, one of the key things that I have to do in my job is to give people a disclaimer which is: I am a lawyer but I’m not your lawyer. So, I cannot give legal advice in my role as a librarian and I’ve actually had people offer to pay me…
Billy: Wow
Sara: …to give them legal advice and I just can’t do that for many reasons. One is that it would be a conflict of interest with my job.
Billy: Yes
Sara: Also, that’s not a role of a librarian, right?
Billy: Right.
Sara: Our role, in any arm of librarianship, is to help people find what they are looking for in terms of information but not do the research for people.
Billy: Exactly.
Sara: Yeah, so, you don’t come to the library and say, “Do this research for me.” You say, “Can you help me formulate this research?” or “Can you help me find this book?” or “I’m not sure where to begin,” and that’s the same kind of information that I give, it’s just specific to copyright.
Billy: And you were a lawyer before you were a librarian.
Sara: Correct. So, I’ve had a long career. It started as a practicing attorney. I started at a big law firm in Dallas, Texas.
Billy: Wow
Sara: I was practicing commercial litigation defense for big corporations; I won’t name any of them right now and I did a—I found myself doing a lot of pro bono work which is free work for clients who can’t pay and a lot of family law, actually.
Billy: Wow
Sara: And so, I found myself really not motivated by making money and helping big corporations make money. I was more motivated by the heart of helping people.
Billy: That’s wonderful.
Sara: So, I decided big law wasn’t for me and I wanted to kind of change career paths and ultimately, I wanted to become a professor…
Billy: Yes
Sara: …because I really liked teaching but before I did that, I got my Master’s of Law and I joined a small boutique law firm in Austin, Texas while my husband finished his graduate degree and I was practicing domestic violence law.
Billy: Wow
Sara: So, I was helping women and children, mostly—we did have male clients, as well but mostly women and children—to escape very violent situations and it was really rewarding word but it was very stressful and so, I enjoyed doing that but I only did it for a short time…
Billy: Yeah
Sara: …for various reasons. One of which was that my husband graduated and we both went on the job market. We ended up here at University of Illinois and I was at the law school teaching mostly legal research and writing for ten years. I did teach a little of domestic violence and sexual orientation and the law…
Billy: Wow
Sara: …and contracts and a bunch of other things and then I decided to get my Master’s of Library Science degree.
Billy: Hey!
Sara: And right away, I went to Career Services and said, “Hey, what can I do with, you know, a law degree and an MLS degree?” and they said, “Oh well, you can be a Copyright Librarian” and my first response to that was that sounds horrible. I just thought I don’t want to do that because, you know, when you hear copyright you think I’m going to be looking at legalese all day.
Billy: Right
Sara: I’m going to be looking at contracts. I know a lot about contracts, don’t get me wrong. They’re not really fun.
Billy: No, I can’t imagine they would be.
Sara: They’re okay but they’re, you know, I didn’t want to shuffle paper all day.
Billy: No
Sara: And I thought that was the job of a Copyright Librarian.
Billy: Right
Sara: Because I didn’t know, and so, I thought, “Well, okay, I’ll give this, you know, the college try and I’ll take copyright law at the law school as part of my MLS degree.
Billy: Wow
Sara: So, I found myself in a law class with some of my former students…
Billy: That’s crazy!
Sara: …and with a professor, Professor Heald, who was my former colleague.
Billy: Oh my gosh.
Sara: So, I sat through that class and I found that it was really fun! Copyright law was fun! Who knew?
Billy: Not me but that’s great!
Sara: And it’s, you know, like all law, it’s full of stories but the stories involve things such as art, music, performance, dance…
Billy: Wow
Sara: …all these wonderful, interesting cases that are not boring at all.
Billy: No
Sara: I found it really exciting and really, really a challenging area of the law too because there’s a lot of uncertainty, especially in fair use, and I really found it challenging and fun and engaging and I decided, “Hey, copyright law is great, maybe I would like being a Copyright Librarian.”
Billy: Yeah
Sara: The truth of the matter is, I do. I really love it. I’m feeling really lucky that I found this field that is so dynamic that you really don’t know what you’re going to get on a daily basis. You can get a question about author’s rights and you can get a question about permissions, you can get a question about licensing, you can get a question about fair use. You can get a question about so many different things.
Billy: Wow
Sara: And so, it’s really fun and one of the most enjoyable things is—okay, so I’ll tell you the truth about being a lawyer:
Billy: Yes, please.
Sara: Most people don’t like lawyers. This is not shocking.
Billy: No, I don’t think that is going to be a revelation but it’s fun to hear from a lawyer.
Sara: No, there’s a lot of lawyers jokes out there and I think there may be a reason for that but, people are not usually happy to see a lawyer because a lawyer is usually there to say “No” or they’re there to say, “Pay me a lot of money.” But people do like librarians!
Billy: They do!
Sara: They find us helpful and they come to us when they are at their wit’s end and they just don’t know what else to do.
Billy: Yeah
Sara: And often, what we do is we help them. We show them a path forward and we provide them with much needed guidance at a time of need.
Billy: Yes
Sara: Right? So, when we provide them some clear guidance and direction, they’re usually quite thankful and it’s a wonderful feeling to be thanked because as a lawyer, you are not thanked. Where in my job, as a Copyright Librarian, it’s almost daily that I get a heartfelt thank you from a client or someone, a patron, and it’s really rewarding.
Billy: That is wonderful.
Sara: So, I really enjoy that aspect of it. I also, have a wonderful group of colleagues.
Billy: Yes, I wanted to ask. Are you amongst several lawyers amongst your colleagues? What does it take to be a Copyright Librarian? Do you have to have a law degree?
Sara: Those are good questions. So…
Billy: I hope so.
Sara: …when I talk about colleagues as Copyright Librarians, I’m talking about national and international Copyright Librarians. I’m the only Copyright Librarian at the University of Illinois and I’m the only one we’ve ever had…
Billy: Wow
Sara: …who’s full-time doing copyright librarianship.
Billy: That’s incredible.
Sara: The copyright librarians, they’re such a great group of people. Again, I think they’re driven by helping people.
Billy: Yes
Sara: And a lot of them are lawyers, but I will say this: there are some of us who don’t have a law degree at all, and you really don’t need one to do this job. What you need is you need to enjoy challenge because it’s not going to be easy.
Billy: Oh boy!
Sara: But if you’re up for a challenge and you really enjoy the challenge and you’re willing to put the time in to really learn the field, you really don’t need to be a lawyer and there are folks out there who are just as well versed in copyright librarianship and copyright law as I am who don’t have a J.D. I’m thinking of Eric Harbeson as a notable librarian. He’s a music librarian at Colorado-Boulder. He actually went to the iSchool.
Billy: Hey!
Sara: And he is a phenomenal librarian and knows he could argue me to the table about copyright law. Now, I’m not going to say he would necessarily, you know, prove me wrong or anything but we can go back and forth, and he can hold his own because he knows the law that well.
Billy: Yeah. You’ve talked about what an amazing career this would be, but can you give us, sort of, a day in the life? Can you give us some of the questions you might receive as a Copyright Librarian?
Sara: Sure. So, in a given day I might get questions from, for instance, someone who wants to put on a public performance of a musical work, maybe, a dance troop or music troop and they’re worried about the performance rights, and the same day there may be a student group that wants to show a film and they don’t know if they can do so without paying for public performance rights. Many of the films that we have streaming through the library, we do have public performance rights for.
Billy: That’s great.
Sara: But people don’t necessarily know that.
Billy: No
Sara: I might, also, have a professor who wants to make copies of a certain work and put them on their course reserve page and they’re not sure if they need to pay a licensing fee to do that.
Billy: Right
Sara: And then the same day, I might have a student who is working on an article and is thinking about publishing it and maybe they don’t understand what they need to do in order to do that. For instance, maybe someone is writing a dissertation and they plan to publish their dissertation as a whole but they also want to publish part of it as book chapters.
Billy: Yeah
Sara: So, they need to think carefully about that and reserving the right to use the chapters in their dissertation when they actually compile the whole thing or else, they might have to go back and ask for permission from each publisher.
Billy: Wow
Sara: So, there are many different issues.
Billy: What a day!
Sara: That would be a pretty busy day, but I’ve had busy days like that. But, I’m always happy to help them and they’re usually happy to get some sort of guidance.
Billy: So, for lay people listening, like myself, what is the basic knowledge of copyright that you think we should have?
Sara: That’s a good question. So, I think as librarians…
Billy: Yes
Sara: …I’m going to talk to the librarians here…
Billy: Yes, hello, we’re listening!
Sara: Yes, not general lay people because generally that would be different.
Billy: Yes
Sara: But I do think as librarians there are a few key things. The biggest thing I would say is to understand how copyright is formed.
Billy: Yes
Sara: Because today, we don’t have any formalities that are required. So, in other words, you don’t have to put a copyright symbol on your work.
Billy: Wow
Sara: You don’t have to file it with the Copyright Office, you don’t have to renew your registration. Those things—now, some of those things are helpful.
Billy: Yeah
Sara: The copyright symbol is helpful to put people on notice and it is helpful to register your work because if you don’t, you will forfeit statuary damages and you will not be able to sue anyone. So, there are prerequisites to suing people and getting certain damages, but you don’t have to put it on your work to have a copyright.
Billy: Ahh
Sara: And the other thing that I would say is really important is to understand fair use, which is very complicated but not so complicated that you can’t understand it.
Billy: Good
Sara: So, I think people should try to understand fair use. I think, they should look at Section 108…
Billy: Hmm
Sara: …those are the library exceptions that allow libraries to make, well, they allow library patrons to make copies on our copy machine.
Billy: That’s very good!
Sara: They allow us to engage in interlibrary loan, which is really important.
Billy: That’s huge.
Sara: They allow us to make copies for preservation and archival uses.
Billy: Yeah
Sara: And they tell us when we can make those copies available to patrons.
Billy: Yeah
Sara: So, those are things that, I think, are really important. Those sections and then the Right of First Sale, I think, is really important because that’s what allows us to lend books in the first place.
Billy: Great
Sara: Right? So, the first sale doctrine says that once I have sold a book then and you have bought it, you’re allowed to do whatever you want with it.
Billy: Wow
Sara: You can sell it to somebody else, you can give it to somebody else, you can put it in your free library in your backyard.
Billy: Yeah
Sara: Right? You can do whatever you want. That’s why libraries in the U.S. can lend books that in copyright. We bought them…
Billy: Yeah
Sara: …and then we can lend them.
Billy: Wow
Sara: Now we can’t…
Billy: Is that not true everywhere?
Sara: It’s not. Well, okay, it is true but what happens is there are things that are called Public Lending Rights that are employed in other nations and what happens there is that they have to then collect money to a general fund that then redistributed to authors.
Billy: Wow
Sara: And in the U.S., we do not have that. So, once a library buys a book, they can lend it as much as they want, that particular copy…
Billy: Yes
Sara: …not multiple copies…
Billy: No
Sara: …that particular copy without paying any other fees.
Billy: Wow
Sara: Whereas in other countries, such as Europe—you might have countries in Europe I should say. Saying Europe is a country is inaccurate, but in countries in Europe they would have to collect funds for the authors…
Billy: Wow
Sara: …for those lending and that sounds good on principle…
Billy: It does but…
Sara: …but it can be really tricky because how do you determine how much any given author gets. There has been—some people say those funds are not well spent or managed.
Billy: Yeah
Sara: And in general, I—it’s not as good for the public…
Billy: No
Sara: …because it’s harder for them to then get access to those books…
Billy: Yeah
Sara: …and it makes it more expensive for libraries to lend books.
Billy: Yeah
Sara: So, I’m very happy with the right of for sale.
Billy: Yeah
Sara: And the broad rights it gives us in the U.S. So, that’s another thing, I would say is important to know. I think, the face-to-face teaching is really helpful if you’re in an academic library…
Billy: Definitely
Sara: …or if you’re in a school library.
Billy: Yeah
Sara: The K-12 level, it’s really helpful to know that.
Billy: And that falls under fair use?
Sara: No, that—there’s a separate section. It’s Section 110-1 that gives you the right to perform or display any work in the context of face-to-face teaching which means in the classroom with students at a given time.
Billy: That’s incredible.
Sara: Yeah, so that’s how, for instance, if our library buys a copy of a movie…
Billy: Yes
Sara: …then a professor can show it in their classroom without having any other license…
Billy: Yeah
Sara: …or without having paid any other fee. Our copyright law in the U.S. is very friendly to educators, researchers…
Billy: Yeah
Sara: … the public, libraries. There are a lot of great things about our copyright laws. It’s a really nice balance between authors rights and the rights of the public.
Billy: That’s fantastic. That’s very cool. Sara, thank you so much for being on this podcast. I really appreciate it.
Sara: Well, thank you for having me. It was very enjoyable, and I encourage anyone who has additional questions for me to send me an email, look me up on the web. I am always happy to talk to people about copyright.
Billy: Yes! And do you want to plug your podcast one more time at the end of this?
Sara: Sure. So, you can find my podcast called Copyright Chat at iTunes and I’ve been told the easiest way is to search for my name Sara Benson with no H.
Billy: Thank you, again.
It Takes a Campus is a podcast brought to you by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Scholarly Commons located in the Main Library. If you want more from us, be sure to check out our blog “Commons Knowledge” at and follow us on Twitter at ScholCommons. That’s S C H O L Commons. The opening and closing song is “Tranquility Base” by A. A. Aalto. You can find their album “Bright Colors” in the free music archive by searching for A.A. Aalto at
Updated on