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Alumnus Is National Leader on Copyright and Licensing Issues in Libraries

Posted Sep. 23, 2013

It’s not often one hears someone say, “Copyright is fun,” but that’s what School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) alumnus Kevin Smith would be the first to tell you.

Smith serves as the director of the Copyright and Scholarly Communication office for Duke University Libraries, where he advises faculty, staff and students about copyright law, intellectual property licensing and scholarly publishing.

Kevin L Smith MLS 95Smith, M.L.S. ’96, has a bachelor’s degree from Hamilton College in philosophy and English, a master’s degree in religion from Yale Divinity School, an M.L.S from Kent State University, and a law degree from Capital University. He also completed work toward a Ph.D. in theology and literature at the University of Chicago. Smith followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a librarian, although somewhat unintentionally.

“While I was trying to write my dissertation I got a part-time job in an academic library, and that helped me decide that I preferred library work to classroom teaching,” he said.

Smith began working at Duke University in 2006, where he educates about copyright law, licensing and publishing and serves as an advocate for improved social and legal conditioned for the distribution of scholarship.

“Copyright is implicated by nearly everything libraries do, especially in the digital age.  In many cases, uncertainty or lack of information about copyright leads librarians to refrain from doing important things in their institutions,” Smith said. “I want to help librarians and faculty members understand how to respect the boundaries of the law while using the space it gives us to pursue the opportunities that are most central to our academic mission.  Also, copyright is fun because the things we discuss and argue over are the building blocks of our shared culture, whether they are scholarly books, artistic creations or video games. Court cases about copyright discuss everything from Gone with the Wind to the Grateful Dead to South Park.”

Smith credits his interest in copyright and licensing from a brief discussion of these topics in his Foundations of Librarianship class at Kent State in 1995.

The idea of regulating something intangible as a form of property fascinated me and led, eventually, to my decision to go to law school so I could help the library community understand and implement this unusual body of law,” he said.

Smith channels his passion for copyright law into his blog Scholarly Communications @ Duke, where he informs readers about copyright issues in academia and scholarly communications.

I particularly report on, and comment about, cases that are decided regarding copyright that might impact what we do in higher education,” Smith said. “The lawsuit against Georgia State University over e-reserves has given me a lot of material and garnered quite a bit of attention to the blog. I have been quoted in Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education, and my blog received an award from Salem Press for library blogging in 2012. I enjoy the blog largely because Duke University gives me the freedom to be opinionated and to advocate for things like open access to scholarship, which I believe offers important new opportunities for higher education in a digital environment.”

Smith and SLIS director Tomas A. Lipinski, J.D., LL.M, Ph.D., recently presented at the Great Lakes E-Summit, a two-day conference where librarians can discuss digital library issues. Smith will give two presentations, one titled “Copyright and Licensing Issues for Developing Technologies” and another titled “Making Policy in the New IP Environment.”

Smith believes that one of the reasons he can do his job well is because Kent State SLIS gave him a broad and comprehensive vision of library work and how libraries factor into the bigger picture of education.

“What students need most is a deep curiosity about what is new and what might be ahead for our profession,” he said. “They also need to explore the law pretty deeply because this field requires being able to imagine, with some reliability, how the law will approach new developments and new opportunities, largely created by technology, even though the law and courts have not yet caught up to those developments.”

For more information about the School of Library and Information Science, visit www.kent.edu/slis.