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Copyright in the LibraryCopyright in the Library

Licensing library resources


In the print world, when an individual or library acquires a copy of a work, copyright law sets out the rights to use it. When we acquire our works electronically, however, a contract sets out our rights. There can be significant differences in these two methods of acquiring resources.

These are examples of what the copyright holder, an owner and a user can each do with a book under copyright law:

Copyright Holder

Section 106

  • make copies
  • distribute copies
  • publish
  • publicly display
  • publicly perform
  • make derivative works

Book Owner/Borrower

Section 107

  • make fair use copies

Section 108

  • library may
    • archive
    • make copies for patrons
    • participate in interlibrary loan

Section 109

  • distribute an owned copy (lend, sell, give away)

Section 110

  • display and perform in face-to-face teaching and online distance education

If a book owner or borrower wants to use the book in other ways, he or she must get permission. This scheme represents a careful balance between the rights of the copyright owner and the owner of a copy of the book.

Certain parts of this scheme have changed in the digital environment. The changes seem to favor copyright owners and create more liabilities and fewer and less generous rights for users.

For example:

It is not hard to see the writing on the wall: If the academic community wants to browse, download, print out, forward, and quote from digital works, we must secure those rights at the same time we acquire digital access. Those who negotiate the software and database licenses that will one day replace analog acquisition, are determining today the rights we will have tomorrow. Our rights are going to be in the contract, not in the law, so we had better have a look at those contracts. Those contracts are our copyright frontier.

The documents Copyright in the library: Licensing access, Developing a comprehensive copyright policy and Principles for Licensing Electronic Resources (ARL) will help you to better understand these issues.

For sample contracts, see model standard licenses for use by publishers, librarians and subscription agents for electronic resources.

The subjects in this series include:

Fair Use (Section 107)

Library reproduction and distribution (Section 108)


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The Copyright Crash Course © 2001, 2007 Georgia K. Harper