I imagine that each linguistic-cultural environment has its own phrase for it. In English, it is said that "only a fool would have himself as a client." In Hebrew, there is a phrase that
can be translated as "the shoemaker goes barefoot". Whatever the language and the culture, the idea seems to be the same: giving professional advice to oneself is a recipe for potential disaster. However, as much as this Kat would like to be true to this maxim in all instances, the world is simply too complicated to allow him to do so.
This seems especially true when copyright is involved. Most of us create legally enforceable works protected by copyright on a daily basis. Because of the instinctive familiarity that most people have with copyright, not infrequently I am asked for some off-the-cuff copyright advice. This Kat tries hard to be a cooperative soul and thus he rarely declines to respond to such inquiries. But what happens when the person asking the question and expecting an answer is himself?
I was forced to deal with this situation this week in connection with preparing my updated course syllabus. One of the challenges in teaching a course for which no textbook exists is sorting out the copyright for the articles and case studies that will form the basis for the syllabus. Suddenly, those years of talking about transaction costs here and the tragedy of the anti-commons here become all too real, as I become, for a brief period of time, a poor man's content aggregator. What can be safely copied for the students; what can be uploaded on the course website; what can referenced by a link on the course website and what must ultimately be jettisoned for lack of an adequate copyright solution? Most importantly, to whom should I turn, in a world where the copyright laws fail to give clear operational directions? In trying to give answers to my questions, I found myself in a bit of a panic. It is one thing to give this advice to clients, but it is another matter entirely to counsel yourself. It is as close as this Kat can come to the "fear and trembling" of professional indequacy.
And so we relied on a series of coping behaviours. Surely there must be guidelines from the institution--and indeed there are. But the guidelines are not a blueprint and, besides, it turns out that the law apparently declined to take part in the drawing up of the guidelines. I cannot say that I am surprised. At the end of the day, the law faculty, like any other faculty members, are employees of the institution. As such, they are subject to the same guidelines regarding copyright and course materials as are all other faculty members. To give advice on the guidelines is to make yourself both the dispenser and consumer of the legal advice. This is the institutional equivalent of being your own lawyer. In such circumstances, we relied on the guidelines, our conversations with the relevant informatics staff about institutional best practices and our own professional understanding, and best judgment. I would like to believe that we got it 150% correct. However, like it or not, we could not entirely come to grips with the fact that we were being own copyright lawyer, at least in part. We did not entirely like the feeling. What we wouldn't give for a new copyright matter to come through the door today--a client with a copyright problem for whom we could call on our years of experience in the field. Then we could be "a real copyright lawyer" once again.