User Rights Network Symposium: Protecting Copyright User Rights from Contractual Override

Conference: May 18-19, 2023

Call for papers

American University Washington College of Law
American University Washington College of Law

The American University Washington College of Law Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property (PIJIP), the American Library Association, and the Association of Research Libraries are inviting papers and presentations for a Global Symposium on Protecting User Rights from Contractual Override.

It is a well-accepted principle in international and domestic copyright law that rights of users are a fundamental part of the system. The World Intellectual Property Organization Copyright Treaty (1996), for example, recognizes “the need to maintain a balance between the rights of authors and the larger public interest, particularly education, research and access to information, as reflected in the Berne Convention.” Copyright laws have long reflected this need for balance in part through limitations and exceptions to exclusive rights to safeguard certain activities of users from private control. But what if the license under which the user obtains access to content inhibits the use that copyright law otherwise permits? 

International and domestic copyright are dealing with the problem of restrictions on user rights in a piecemeal fashion. The most recent multilateral copyright treaty, the Marrakesh Treaty, requires that Contracting Parties ensure that legal prohibitions on the circumvention of technological measures do not prevent beneficiary persons from enjoying the exceptions provided for in that Treaty. But this and other treaties do not address the issue of prevention of the enjoyment of user rights by contract. European Union directives related to copyright and related rights have required Member States to prohibit the enforcement of contract terms that restrict the availability of some exceptions mandated by those directives. More recently, individual countries both within and without the EU have adopted similar protections from contractual override that apply to a much broader range of exceptions. Despite having perhaps the most flexible and useful copyright exception in the world, the United States provides very little in the way of protection of fair uses from contractual or technological override.

The symposium will explore three questions:

  1. Why have some jurisdictions adopted protections from contract override and not others?
  2. What impacts have protections from contract override had on both licensors and licensees in the jurisdictions where they have been adopted?
  3. In jurisdictions where protections from contract override have not been adopted, such as the United States, are there alternative legal theories that could have the same effect? 

We are inviting applications for presenting completed (published or unpublished), works in progress, or presentations without written work that address one of these three questions. We are planning to have this meeting in-person at American University Washington College of Law, in Washington D.C. and will also have remote participation options. 


To apply to make a presentation at the Symposium, please complete the Symposium Submission Form by January 31, 2023. The form asks for an early outline of your presentation. The initial draft should include your claim or hypothesis.

Travel costs 

Assuming we are able to host the conference in person, participants who are accepted to make presentations at the symposium may request support for some or all of their travel costs (flight + hotel) to attend the meeting. Other participants will be expected to fund their own travel.  

We will confirm whether we can host the in-person event by April 21, 2023.