March 14, 2024

Celebrating 10 Years of Copyright First Responders

“Have a copyright question? Ask a Copyright First Responder!” reads the Copyright First Responders page at Harvard Library. Developed to empower librarians to understand and advise on copyright questions at Harvard, the program has since spread to universities in nine other states with a network of hundreds. To celebrate the tenth anniversary of Copyright First Responders, we spoke with Rachel Bridgewater, a Copyright First Responder at PCC Cascade Library in Portland, OR.

Rachel, you were one of the co-facilitators of the first non-Harvard CFR network, the Copyright First Responders Pacific Northwest, which started in 2018.

What got you interested in the Copyright First Responders Program?

I had been having conversations with colleagues in the region about trying to kick start a semi-formal community of practice around library copyright issues for several years, ever since I attended the capstone event for the ARL Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries. I was really inspired by the idea of communities working together to actively support each other in developing their understanding of and confidence in copyright generally and fair use in particular. I could really see how much fear and uncertainty around fair use and copyright holds us back as advocates for sensible and just copyright policies (both locally in our institutions and in our advocacy with state and national lawmakers).

In 2017, I was meeting regularly with a few interested colleagues to discuss how best to realize our dream of a vibrant copyright community in our region. Around that time, Kyle K. Courtney gave a presentation about Copyright First Responders in ALA’s CopyTalk series and in it he said that he wanted to be “the Johnny Appleseed of Copyright First Responders,” and that he was interested in spreading the program beyond Harvard and I think the lightbulb went off for all of us and we wrote to Kyle the next day!

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Copyright First Responder Rachel Bridgewater

How have you used CFR in your work?

Being active with CFR has been a huge part of my professional life since launching CFRPNW in 2018. It has provided me with wonderful opportunities to connect with other librarians and library staff from my region who share my interest in copyright across a wide range of library types and job descriptions. All CFRs have access to our email list and I’ve really gotten a lot out of both asking and answering questions on that list. It is only through practice that we can really come to feel that we have expertise and having a community of practice to share thoughts with has really increased my confidence in myself when it comes to copyright and fair use. 

Our network also comes together in discussion groups around current issues, to talk about journal articles, to do webinar “watch parties” and the like, and I always learn so much from my colleagues when we do these. Additionally, because I've served as a co-facilitator of this group from the beginning, it’s given me a lot of opportunities to develop my leadership skills. I am proud of our network and of the role I’ve played in forming and sustaining it.

What are your hopes for the future?

I am personally very excited for the future of Copyright First Responders. As more and more CFR groups get started, it is exciting to see how flexibly this model adapts to different communities. We have also started to work more intentionally to bring the leaders from CFR groups around the country together to learn from one another. It is a really interesting organizational challenge to think about how we can work together and create some sustainable processes and structures for these groups to survive and thrive for years to come while keeping the work really organic and passion-driven. I’m also excited because, connecting back to what originally motivated me to take on this work, I believe that as more library workers are knowledgeable and confident about the aspects of copyright law that impact their work and their communities, we will as a professional community be better advocates for good policy at all levels. Finally, more CFR networks means more copyright buddies and that's always a good thing!

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