Book Review: Copyright Law Deskbook, by Robert W. Clarida

Clarida, Robert W. Copyright Law Deskbook. BNA Books, 2009 ($395.00 / 857 pgs / 978-1-57018-691-2 / hardcover with CD-ROM cumulative case digest (1993-2008)).

It is difficult to overstate the importance of a work like the Copyright Law Deskbook, a one-volume compendium that serves as a useful summary of current copyright law. This very practical, portable work draws together the important cases and organizes them in a topical arrangement with commentary, explaining how the cases do (or do not) fit together.

Instead of an impassioned plea for one or another view about some point of controversy, the reader gets a useful statement of what the law is that can help both the seasoned practitioner and the copyright newcomer answer everyday questions. As one who is sometimes asked whether this or that practice is protected by the fact that an educational purpose would be served, for instance, I find it a pleasure to have Clarida’s chapter on fair use, which includes a two-page summary of how courts have viewed educational use when weighing the various fair use factors.

It is extremely helpful to have this reference work in one volume, albeit a hefty one. The Deskbook includes several appendices, one of them a CD-ROM that holds a 15 year case digest covering notable copyright cases from 1993 through 2008. In an academic law library, one groans to see a CD-ROM accompany a book, because it usually requires special storage and handling apart from the book to ensure that the disk does not disappear. Fortunately, the BNA Books Agreement that accompanies the work gives permission to make one copy of the CD-ROM for archival purposes, which helps to reduce the groan to a grimace.

There is no indication of how often the CD-ROM will be reissued, but one hopes that consideration will be given to a Web-based platform rather than a CD-ROM to update the case summaries. For now, cases with citations to BNA’s United States Patents Quarterly (USPQ and USPQ 2d) have links that take the reader to BNA’s Intellectual Property Library on the Web for the full text. Subscribers to the BNA IP Library must enter their password and user ID to access the full text, while non-subscribers can use a link on the sign-in page to request a one-time-only temporary password that gives 15 days of access to full text with a temporary password and user ID. Our library uses IP validation for the BNA IP Library, which makes access simple, so I am not certain how hospitable the temporary password option will seem to non-subscribers.

The Deskbook was assembled with a practitioner in mind, as evidenced by an appendix of forms. The forms are reproductions, in tiny print, of various registration forms used by the Copyright Office and readily available from their Web site. For a practitioner unaccustomed to finding such things, it may be useful to read the forms first, although the tiny print is a hindrance and there is no introduction to point the reader to the Copyright Office Web site. A more useful appendix might have included contact information for the Copyright Office as well as URLs for the Web site, but this is a tiny quibble about a small appendix.

One may well ask why the CD-ROM holds only the last 15 years of cases. I think the idea was to cover ‘current’ copyright law, and for most purposes, the past 15 years should suffice. Author Robert Clarida, a partner at Cowan, Liebowitz & Latman, has written the summaries since 1993, but the firm has for many years summarized copyright decisions for the Copyright Society of the U.S.A. that are published in the Society’s journal. The firm also has had a long relationship with the publisher, Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), since the days when a founding partner of the firm, Alan Latman, took up the revision of Herbert Howell’s 1952 treatise on copyright law. Latman was a very influential figure in the development of copyright law whose casebook is familiar to anyone who took a law school copyright class in the 1980s or 1990s.

The Deskbook is a wonderful addition to any law library, although some will find it too expensive at a time when library budgets are being slashed and some serial costs are going up even more than the usual 7-9%. In addition to law firms, however, I suspect that the many law schools with an intellectual property program will add it, as I will, even though the volume itself will be in the non-circulating stacks, while the CD-ROM case summary will reside in a more supervised area of the library some distance away.

Reviewed by Keith Ann Stiverson, Director of the Library, IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, and former chair of the AALL Copyright Committee

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October 2009

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