Copyright – Maze? Labyrinth? Quagmire?

Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut  made a great impact in Ireland, having posted comments and photographs about Ireland from space. Last year, he  visited schools  and spoke Gaelic, and   was greeted everywhere he went  as a superstar.  While still in space, he made a video of himself in space, playing the guitar and  singing David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’. Chris obtained a year’s licence to post the video on YouTube. That year has expired and Chris has removed the video which received nearly 17 million hits.

This,  combined with a discussion in work about copyright, sent me on a quest to know a little more. However, the more I looked into the subject, the more I uncovered my ignorance and the complexities of copyright affecting  in every aspect of life are overwhelming. Initially I was going to call this entry ‘The quagmire that is copyright’, I reconsidered, thinking it was more like a labyrinth, or is it a maze?

Then I wondered what the official dictionaries of these words are, so I visited the Oxford online dictionary  to provide accurate definitions and to ascertain which was the most suitable:

 Maze “network of paths and hedges designed as a puzzle through which one has to find a way” or “A complex network of paths or passage” or “A confusing mass of information

Labyrinth = “A complicated irregular network of passages or paths in which it is difficult to find one’s way” or “An intricate and confusing arrangement”. [I have excluded the definitions regarding,  the bony labyrinth from the inner ear and the respiratory organ of certain fish] 

Quagmire = “A soft boggy area of land that gives way underfoot”,  or  “An awkward, complex, or hazardous situation”

Personally, I’d say it could be any one of these or all three, but I’ll leave it up to you, which you think most appropriate.

In my quest for knowledge, I came across a statement from Ronnie Burt in “The Edublogger”, stating

“Libraries have access to tons of licensed materials and librarians are specially trained to help us navigate the difficult copyright laws”.

Working in the library environment copyright questions arise often, thus the basic principles  are deeply entrenched in our working practice. Information on copyright guidelines for researchers are made available on the library websites of all the Irish Universities websites, often with useful links. One such link is the Copyright Association of Ireland Another is  the Irish Copyright Licensing Agency  The European Commission has a committment to harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright which can be found at the following link:

Librarians  excel in research and  have a plethora of resources, accessible when specialised  queries arise, and they do have a healthy respect for the rules, regulations and premise of copyright. Does that make librarians the experts? What do you think?

The Irish love the telling of a story,  so here is one directly related to copyright, set in Ireland during the sixth century. The first case of copyright infringement.

St Columba (521 – 597 A.D.), who founded the Celtic monastery on the Island of Iona and whose name in Gaelic is Colum meaning ‘Dove’,  also known as Columcille  meaning ‘dove of the church’, was a student of Finian of Maigh Bhile (Finnian of Moville). Finian brought back from Rome,  St Jerome’s book of Psalters containing the text of Psalms 30:10 to 105:13 in Latin. Columcille borrowed it and secretly had it copied, believing that it should be shared. However, Finian disagreed and demanded the return of the Psalter and the copy which Columcille had made. Agreement could not be found, so the case was brought before the High King, Diarmaid Mac Cearrbhaill. 

Diarmuid’s ruling was le gach bó a buinín agus le gach leabhar a chóip”.

“To every cow her calf and to every book its copy”

This was clever as the copy of the Psalter was written on calf skin. Alas, Columcille was not happy with the King, so with the accumulation of additional grievances, a mighty battle ensued, which resulted in Columcille going into exile to Iona. It is said that he wanted to make amends by converting as many souls to Christianity, though it is also said that he was expelled from Ireland1

1Halsall P.  Medieval sourcebook: Adamnan: the life of St Columba. New York: Fordham University, The Jesuit University of New York; 1998. Available online from:



4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. bernietgardiner
    May 24, 2014 @ 13:34:34

    I like the Quagmire analogy “A soft boggy area of land that gives way underfoot”, that made me smile, copyright is very complicated indeed! Very useful post, thank you.



  2. debhuntinbrokenhill
    May 23, 2014 @ 08:07:00

    So glad to hear you are specially trained to help us navigate the difficult copyright laws – I must have slept through that lecture in training!



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