ResearchWire - Scooping on the 'Net: Discovering Current Legal Developments

Genie Tyburski is the Research Librarian for Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the editor of The Virtual Chase:TM A Research Site for Legal Professionals.

(Archived March 1, 1998)


Have you ever accepted an invitation to speak on a topic related to your area of expertise, but one about which you do not consider yourself an expert? Has a client, who you would like to assist, ever asked questions about an area of law in which you lacked familiarity? Have you ever, for any reason, wanted to advance your knowledge of current legal developments? If you answer yes to any of these questions, the research strategies and resources described below may pique your interest.

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The day Lawyer X both dreaded, and attempted to ignore, had arrived. Reviewing her calendar, she noted that she must prepare for a speech she promised to deliver later this week to students of journalism. Lawyer X is an intellectual property attorney, whose expertise is trademark law. The professor, who arranged for her visit, asked that she discuss copyright issues with an emphasis on web publishing.

Anxiously, she turns to you. She wants an outline of the topic, along with two or three choice articles, by the end of the day. She further requests that you incorporate facts about pending federal legislation and relevant litigation. How will you accomplish this task? Where will you turn?

If you have access to excellent resources like BNA's Electronic Information Policy & Law Report, you might begin with it. But if not, try one of the following types of Internet information sources:

  • a legal news site,
  • a topically related professional association, advocacy, or government agency site, or
  • a site devoted to the issue or subject.

Given Lawyer X's, and now your dilemma, which of these types of sites will you check? My first attempt at a list follows. For now, let's pretend we do not know of any other sites specializing in copyright law or issues.

Connecting first to LJX, we locate its Copyright Law Center. The Center offers news stories and articles about a variety of copyright issues including fair use, right of publicity, and work-for-hire. Near the bottom of the Center's opening page, researchers will find a link for a memorandum, entitled "Who Controls Electronic Rights -- The Publisher or Writer?", by lawyer Lloyd L. Rich.

After reviewing the document, which outlines electronic rights issues and discusses several relevant cases, we follow the link for the author's article index. The index uncovers a newer (12/97) article on electronic rights.

Returning to LJX's Copyright Law Center, we find a link for pending copyright legislation. It leads to the portion of the U.S. Copyright Office's site that offers brief information about pending copyright bills and provides links to their text and status at Thomas, a sister site.

Having arrived indirectly at the the third site on our list, we stay and look around. The home page reveals that President Clinton recently signed the Copyright Technical Amendments Act (H.R. 672) into law. We may review or download the enacted legislation at Thomas.

Consulting our initial list of resources, we cross out Law Journal EXTRA! and the U.S. Copyright Office. Now it's time to visit Lawyers Weekly. Whereas LJX arranges its site by practice area to facilitate locating commentary on specific topics, Lawyers Weekly offers a search interface to articles in its archive.

We enter the query, copyright infringement,copyright protection,copyright law. This finds sixteen articles. Researchers may want to vary the search. But beware; the word "copyright" appears frequently in commercially published sources. Searching it separately at this site produces more than 10,000 hits.

Perusing the annotated list of hits our query produced, we find stories about current litigation and issues that may affect web site owners. If dismayed at having to pay for an article at Lawyers Weekly, I recommend reading its justification, entitled "Just so you know ...," located at the bottom of its home page. Note, too, that the site offers three free articles from the archive just for signing the guest book.

The last site on our initial list -- Copyright Clearance Center -- offers a news link from the home page.1 Following it, we find useful commentary like Copyright in a Digital Age and Electronic Copyright Management Systems (ECMS): From Rights Trading to Electronic Publishing.

After reading the articles, we click on the "copyright resources" icon located in the left frame. Many links to excellent resources appear here. In the interest of time, we select one -- the National Writers Union.

The National Writers Union web site offers a journalism division link. Following it, we find the Union's Recommended Electronic Rights Policy, Negotiation Strategies, and Standard Journalism Contract.

We also discover a leading case -- Tasini v. The New York Times. The Union, several of whose members were plaintiffs, devotes a segment of its web site to commentary about the case.

We have now reviewed all the sites on our list plus additional valuable resources via their links. We learned about developments in rights of publicity, work-for-hire, digital copyright, and electronic rights. We discovered recent case law and identified relevant pending legislation. We probably ought to quit now and write the outline Lawyer X requested.

Nah! Being of type A persuasion, we connect to a few of our favorite starting points to determine whether additional gems of information exist. Via FindLaw's Intellectual Property:Copyright subject index, we discover the Stanford Copyright and Fair Use Site.

In addition to primary legal materials like statutes, regulations, and judicial opinions, the site maintains an index of current U.S. copyright legislation complete with links to bill text, status, summaries, and testimony. It also offers a collection of articles, presentations, and other materials on the subject of fair use and multimedia.

Via its link, Resources on the Internet, we find access to government agencies and organizations offering copyright information. We also uncover other valuable resources like Copyright Crash Course offered by the University of Texas System Administration Office of General Counsel, and The Copyright Website.

Still not enough? Studying CataLaw's copyright law index, we discover Copyright, Intellectual Property Rights, and Licensing Issues by Berkeley Digital Library, University of California Regents. One of its unique features includes the immediate creation, upon request, of an annotated bibliography from Current Cites.

Now we really ought to write that outline! We have more than enough information and choice articles. Oh, remember the early reference to BNA's Electronic Information Policy & Law Report? A sample current issue appears at http://www.bna.com/e-law/.

Huh? Who's that coming our way? Lawyer X! Let's start writing!

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Footnotes

  1. Since the site uses frame technology effectively, I refrain from providing internal links. [Return to text.]

Suggested Starting Points

FindLaw
Cornell Legal Information Institute
CataLaw
WashLaw Web