Saturday, November 27, 2021

Ringer of Fair Use and Civil Rights Dies at 83

Some sad news come to us via a trustworthy Clancco reader. Barbara Ringer, the drafter of the Copyright Act of 1976, which represented the first major revision in seven decades of a basic law governing intellectual property, died last month at age 83.


Ms. Ringer’s best-known contribution to copyright history may have come at a 1971 hearing when she told a congressman that his son wouldn’t infringe copyright if he recorded a song from the radio. The interaction became an important footnote in the Supreme Court decision in Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios Inc., which in 1984 established that taping television shows for home use was legal. Home taping, now covered as “fair use,” became a national obsession in the decision’s wake.

Her contributions don’t stop there. In fact, Ringer, a Columbia Law School grad, sued the Library of Congress, but not for copyright infringement. In 1971, after she was passed over for promotion, she filed a sex-discrimination lawsuit against the Library of Congress. She won in 1973 and was promoted to be the nation’s first female register of copyrights. Ringer claimed she was passed over in part because she had pledged to promote black workers at the Library. Years later, in 1992, a federal judge ruled in a class-action suit that the Library had for decades discriminated against its black employees. A moment of silence indeed!



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