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Copyright Reference Guide For Educators

Libraries and Copyright Law

Section 108 of the Copyright Act makes special provisions for libraries and archives that allow them to lend and distribute copyrighted materials. Moreover, libraries are  allowed to make copies of works that are otherwise copyright-protected for personal research use, to send to other libraries as part of interlibrary loan, and for preservation purposes. See

Library Copying of Copyrighted Materials

Section 108 of The Copyright Law states that it is not an infringement of copyright for a library or archives, or any of its employees acting within the scope of their employment, to reproduce and distribute no more than one copy of a work, as longs as:

  • the reproduction or distribution is made without any purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage;

  • the collections of the library or archives are (i) open to the public, or (ii) available not only to researchers affiliated with the library or archives or with the institution of which it is a part, but also to other persons doing research in a specialized field; and 

  • the reproduction or distribution of the work includes a notice of copyright that appears on the copy that is reproduced under the provisions of this section, or includes a legend stating that the work may be protected by copyright if no such notice can be found on the copy or phonorecord that is reproduced under the provisions of this section.

Copyright Signs on Copying Equipment

Section 108(f) limits liability for their patrons’ use of library equipment (scanner, copy machine, etc.) to violate copyright law, as long as the library prominently displays  the following warning of copyright notice (verbatim) within the immediate vicinity of the place where orders are accepted and on printed forms for ordering copies: 

NoticeWarning Concerning Copyright Restrictions

The copyright law of the United States (title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material.

Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or other reproduction. One of these specific conditions is that the photocopy or reproduction is not to be “used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research.” If a user makes a request for, or later uses, a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in excess of “fair use,” that user may be liable for copyright infringement.

This institution reserves the right to refuse to accept a copying order if, in its judgment, fulfillment of the order would involve violation of copyright law.

Preservation of Unpublished Work

Section (b) of 108 allows librarians engaged in preservation to make a limited number of copies of unpublished work.  Specifically, librarians can make up to three copies of an unpublished work solely for purposes of preservation or for deposit in another library or archives that is open to the public or available to people doing specialized research if:

(1)  the copy is currently in the collection for the library/archives; and

(2)  any copy reproduced in digital format is not otherwise distributed in that format and is not made available to the public in that format outside of the premises of the library/archive.

Preservation of Published Work

In section (c) of 108, a library/archive may make up to three copies of a published work duplicated solely for the purpose of replacement of a copy that is damaged, deteriorating, lost or stolen, or if the existing format in which the work is stored has become obsolete if:

(1) the library/archives has, after a reasonable effort, determined that an unused replacement cannot be obtained at a fair price; and

(2) any copy that is reproduced in digital format is not made available to the public in that format outside the premises of the library.

The law further notes that "a format shall be considered obsolete if the machine or device necessary to render perceptible a work stored in that format is no longer manufactured or is no longer reasonably available in the commercial marketplace."

Interlibrary Loan

Under 17 U.S. Copyright Act 108(d), a library may copy an article or a small part of a copyrighted work for Interlibrary Loan if:

  • The copy becomes the property of the user;

  • The library is not aware that the copy is for any purpose other than private study, scholarship or research; and 

  • The library displays a warning of copyright on its order form and posts the warning at the place where orders are accepted.

Note that:

  • Only a small part of a portion of a book may be copied

  • This applies to both published and unpublished works

  • Copies may not be made of musical works; pictorial, graphic or sculptural works; or motion pictures (audio visual works)

Library Course Reserves

Faculty members are responsible for ensuring that their requests for library course reserves are compliant with U.S. copyright law and the four fair use principles. In general, the amount of the material should be reasonable in relation to the total amount of material assigned for one term of a course. The number of copies should be reasonable in light of the number of students enrolled, the difficulty and timing of the assignments, and other courses which may assign the same material. 

The following may be placed on course reserves:

  • Entire books, scores, and videos in their original formats owned by the library 

  • Photocopy of a complete chapter, story, article or essay from a collected work if it does not constitute a substantial portion of the total work 

  • A photocopy of one article, story or essay from a single issue per journal or newspaper title

  • One chart, graph, diagram, cartoon or picture per book or periodical issue on reserve

  • Instructor’s notes, quizzes, tests, and other materials created for course instruction by the instructor

  • Copyrighted materials legally owned in their original format by the instructor

  • Copyrighted materials for which the instructor has obtained appropriate permission 

The following may not be placed on course reserves:

  • Workbooks, exercises, standardized tests, test booklets, and answer sheets and like consumable material

  • Commercial anthologies (or use of other publications to substantially replicate an anthology normally purchased by students)

  • Works that replicate an excessive portion of a copyrighted work, including anthologies

  • Works prohibited by licensing restrictions