Awarding a Copyright Legend: The Deepest of Honors

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to have the opportunity to pay public tribute to a mentor, a role model, or a legend in your field, you’ll appreciate the combination of honor and humbleness I felt when someone suggested that I be one of those to present the 2014 L. Ray Patterson Copyright Award to Georgia Harper.

About the Award

The Patterson Award is a national award, given by the American Library Association, to recognize the outstanding contributions of an individual or group, not necessarily a librarian or library-centered group, who pursues and supports the Constitutional purpose of U.S. Copyright Law, fair use, and the public domain.

Georgia was named the recipient last year, but the ALA decided it would be appropriate to present it to her at the Texas Library Association Annual Conference in her home town, Austin, Texas, which was held earlier this month.  Carrie Russell, Director of the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom Program on Public Access to Information, came to Austin from Washington, D.C., to present the award and asked if I would be part of it.

The award was presented at one of the General Assemblies, attended by all conference participants, which gave us the opportunity to shine the light on the importance to the library profession of taking a proactive role in working with copyright and the importance to our entire society of maintaining a balanced copyright law.

Carrie had sixty seconds to explain the award and its history, and I had sixty seconds to explain Georgia’s accomplishments that led to her receiving the award.

About Georgia Harper

Sixty seconds is a    very    short    time    to describe the accomplishments of a legend in her field!  You can get a better understanding of her many accomplishments by viewing her Curriculum Vitae, but here’s what I said about Georgia:;

A pioneer explores new territories, blazes new paths, boldly goes where no one has gone before. Georgia Harper is a pioneer. In her career journey, she has blazed many new trails that others have gratefully followed. When a passion is stoked, she pursues it.  Her journey has included early childhood classroom education, around-the-world sailor, and attorney.  Along the way, she picked up a B.S. in Education, a J.D., an M.A. in Contemplative Education, and an M.S.I.S with a focus on digital libraries.

Georgia came to the University of Texas Office of General Counsel in 1991 as a contract and licensing attorney.  Responding to demand from the UT community, in less than two years, she completely restructured her position to focus almost entirely on copyright issues and established the nationally known and widely used Copyright Crash Course.

After I closed my statements, I handed her the award.  Unfortunately, we have no good pictures of that moment, because the award, a totally unique and very beautiful vase, was placed (by stage-workers) on the awards table upside down!  We had only a few seconds for me to grab it, hand it to Georgia, and the three of us to pose for pictures before leaving the stage, so all of those in-the-moment photos show Georgia holding the award upside down!  But this is a lovely photo from afterwards (the award is right-side up!).

Georgia’s Acceptance Speech

One important thing to know about Georgia Harper is that she is one of the most modest people you will ever meet.  Due to the very tightly timed schedule of TLA awards ceremonies, recipients rarely are given the chance to say anything.  However, Georgia had prepared a speech, just in case.  Since she did not get the chance to give it, I want to use this space to share it:

I would like to thank my colleagues in positions like mine in research libraries all around the country for their support for my receiving this award, and all those whose support is required to make an event like this happen.

My colleagues have been so generous with me over the years, offering their time, their energy, their thoughtful advice, and their expertise, whenever I needed it. It is their generous giving from the heart that makes it possible for me to stand here today. That’s how I learned the values and the practices that made me the kind of copyright attorney this award honors.

But it’s the clients and their questions that determine what path your career takes, and I was very lucky to receive copyright questions right from the start of my first job with the University of Texas System. I was in the Office of General Counsel tasked mainly with reviewing research contracts. Luckily for me, big research universities have libraries, because it was a librarian who opened the door for me to a career in copyright law. Her name was Nancy Schuller, and she curated the slide collection for UT Austin’s art history department. It was 1991, and she wanted to know simply whether what the slide library had been doing for decades was ok. Compared to reviewing contracts, figuring out whether the use of images for teaching and research was fair use was, well, it was FUN! Yes, FUN! I loved it.

Luckily again, the questions kept coming. And here I am today.

So, thanks to my colleagues and my clients! And thank you to the American Library Association for recognizing the important role that advocacy of users’ rights plays in bringing to fruition the fantastic projects that our clients imagine.

In a Nutshell
I closed my brief speech about Georgia with this, which seems to be a perfect closing for this blog posting:

I could easily spend an hour telling you about Georgia’s accomplishments, but I have only sixty seconds, which I’m sure I’ve already surpassed.

Let me close by saying that it was passion for copyright that drove me to law school. My goal then was to be Georgia Harper when I grew up.

My goal is still to be Georgia Harper when I grow up.