Nancy Sims

"I’m very excited about what I’m doing. It is exactly the intersection of my interests in library work, technology, and the law.”
Nancy Sims
Nancy Sims

Nancy Sims was a 2007 recipient of a Margaret Dow Towsley Scholarship for her studies at the University of Michigan Law School. After receiving her Library Science degree from Rutgers University in 2000, Nancy began working as a library technology specialist at U-M Hatcher Library. In that role she became interested in the legal implications of the use of technology, especially regarding public interest issues of the copyright laws and intellectual property laws and that interest led Nancy to return to school. Enrolling in U-M's Law School, she received her JD in 2009 with a specialty in Copyright Law.

As Nancy describes it, " I began to realize that the law doesn’t work well for educational or small-user personal or artistic uses. I thought that a law degree would enable me to apply my strong technology and communication skills to the legal issues arising in the area of the use of information found on the internet. I wanted to be able to impact the application of the laws for personal and educational users.

I specialized in copyright law. One summer in law school, I interned with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, based in San Francisco. They focus on copyright issues, especially the civil liberties and civil rights issues of copyright law. They work primarily in situations where people use copyright laws to silence the opinions of others.

At that time, not many people were in the areas of intellectual property law or the public interest issues of copyright laws. It was a growing area at U-M, and has seen much growth since then. So, I was at the right place to get the education I needed for what I wanted to do.

I run workshops for Minnesota faculty and instructors on how they can legally use other people’s “stuff." Everyone is a little bit worried about what they can and cannot do. Some say, “I think I’m not allowed to use this.” Others think, “It’s educational. I can do whatever I want.” Well, neither opinion is quite right. So what I do involves untangling a lot of misconceptions. I help them understand what they shouldn’t be doing and what they can do. The use section of the copyright law is intended to foster the use of available material for research, commentary, criticism, accessibility, and artistic and educational purposes.

My job is to help people understand the fair use laws, and to have those I work with understand that if we don’t use these rights, the rights tend to shrink. On a 1-on-1 level, I’m advocating that existing law does allow the use of material for educational and artistic purposes.

Another area of my work involves helping people understand what their own rights are as writers. Many are unaware that they have a copyright on what they write. Academic writers write because they want to publish their results, or because they want to get tenure, or to improve their academic reputation because they want to work with others scholars, or because the wish to transfer to a more prestigious institution. There are a million reasons why they publish, but copyright is not really one of them. I help them understand that they don’t have to transfer their copyright to a publisher. They can retain their rights to provide public access to their research. They can share these rights as they see fit.

I’m very excited about what I’m doing. It is exactly the intersection of my interests in library work, technology, and the law.”

Nancy is also using her expertise in technology and copyright law to reach out to school groups, non-profits, small library consortia, and K-12 teachers throughout Minnesota.

“Again, there are many misconceptions among these groups. They have been misled and think they cannot just simply use materials and information they find on the internet. They have been led to believe they must pay for everything they use or get permission to use it.

Many school teachers and librarians want to limit what kids can do, produce or create on the school’s computers, even for school projects and assignments. They are trying to protect kids from what they perceive as copyright trouble. Once again, I talk with them about the copyright laws and the fair use provisions of the laws."

Nancy’s passion for appropriate use of the fair use provisions of the copyright laws may lead her to a more active role nationally to protect these rights. She is concerned with talk in Washington about revising the copyright laws. As she says,

“Revising the law is a big issue. Judges make decisions based on the current wording of the law. If the law is revised, I’m concerned about what will happen to all those exceptions for educational, personal, and artistic uses. I worry that all those will be limited. I currently produce filings on these issues, and I want to be involved in advocacy for fair use rights.”