RAQs: Recently Asked Questions

Topic: Creating adaptive copies of textbooks using text-to-speech - 05/18/2022
My institution subscribes to the "Kurzweil Reading Program", a "Text-to-Speech...
Posted: Wednesday, May 18, 2022 Permalink


My institution subscribes to the "Kurzweil Reading Program", a "Text-to-Speech" product for those with reading impairments (dyslexia, English language learners, blind/vision impaired, etc.)

Section 121 indicates these users are "eligible persons" for "fair use", but others, without such disabilities could use the program (like an audiobook in the car!).

We'd be putting TEXTBOOKS up in the program; that fair use violation is what I'm worried about....




This question reflects the level of savvy "Ask the Lawyer" readers bring to their submissions.  The member submitting the question has already set out (in a manner much more succinct than I usually achieve) the interplay of:

  • Owner's rights (Copyright Act Section 106),
  • Adaptive copies made under "fair use" (Copyright Act Section 107), and
  • Copies made for purposes of accommodations for disability that impacts the ability to read (Copyright Act Section 121).

I do have one quibble with the member's phrasing, though, and it is important to this particular issue: Section 121, while it allows copies otherwise barred, does not create a "fair use" right to make a copy.[1]  Rather, the creation of an adaptive copy under Section 121 is a 100% exception to infringement made under highly precise circumstances.

What are those "highly precise circumstances"?

First, as the member writes, the end-user of the copy must be "eligible"--meaning they have a disability that impacts the ability to read (for the three "ways" for a user to be "eligible", see sub-section (d)(3)(A)-(C) of the law, below). 

Second, the copies must:

"(A) not be reproduced or distributed in the United States in a format other than an accessible format exclusively for use by eligible persons;

(B) bear a notice that any further reproduction or distribution in a format other than an accessible format is an infringement; and

(C) include a copyright notice identifying the copyright owner and the date of the original publication."

And third, the maker of the copies must be an "authorized entity" (which is defined in the statute; see the definition, below[2]).

This precise formula, and the right it creates, is why "fair use" is not a part of the issue at hand (adaptive copies specifically for reading-based disabilities).  None of the above-listed requirements are required to claim "fair use" under Section 107[3]. In addition, to make a Section 121 copy, there is no four-factor "balancing" test; rather, a Section 121 use is "inherently noninfringing."[4]

The above-listed Section 121 requirements to include copyright notices are also the key to addressing the member's concern: enforcement.

When an "authorized entity" is creating Section 121-based copies for "eligible" people, the institution must put copyright notices on each copy. This sets up the institution--as either an employer or alma mater--to restrict non-eligible employees and students from using them for non-Section 121 purposes.  Further, in addition to the required notices, the institution can add additional warnings, and if needed, restrict use through technological controls.[5]

Now, how much should an institution police this?  Currently, there is no case law that turns on an alleged infringement that was committed via unauthorized use of a duly made Section 121 copy.  That said, content owners are always looking for new ways to maximize revenues, so taking care to properly designate Section 121-based copies as required by law, and using policy and posted notices to reinforce those restrictions, is a wise idea.

Thank you for a well-informed and nuanced question!


(a) Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106, it is not an infringement of copyright for an authorized entity to reproduce or to distribute in the United States copies or phonorecords of a previously published literary work or of a previously published musical work that has been fixed in the form of text or notation if such copies or phonorecords are reproduced or distributed in accessible formats exclusively for use by eligible persons.


(1) Copies or phonorecords to which this section applies shall—

(A) not be reproduced or distributed in the United States in a format other than an accessible format exclusively for use by eligible persons;

(B) bear a notice that any further reproduction or distribution in a format other than an accessible format is an infringement; and

(C) include a copyright notice identifying the copyright owner and the date of the original publication.

(2) The provisions of this subsection shall not apply to standardized, secure, or norm-referenced tests and related testing material, or to computer programs, except the portions thereof that are in conventional human language (including descriptions of pictorial works) and displayed to users in the ordinary course of using the computer programs.

(c) Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106, it is not an infringement of copyright for a publisher of print instructional materials for use in elementary or secondary schools to create and distribute to the National Instructional Materials Access Center copies of the electronic files described in sections 612(a)(23)(C), 613(a)(6), and section 674(e) of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that contain the contents of print instructional materials using the National Instructional Material Accessibility Standard (as defined in section 674(e)(3) of that Act), if—

(1) the inclusion of the contents of such print instructional materials is required by any State educational agency or local educational agency;

(2) the publisher had the right to publish such print instructional materials in print formats; and

(3) such copies are used solely for reproduction or distribution of the contents of such print instructional materials in accessible formats.

(d) For purposes of this section, the term—

(1) “accessible format” means an alternative manner or form that gives an eligible person access to the work when the copy or phonorecord in the accessible format is used exclusively by the eligible person to permit him or her to have access as feasibly and comfortably as a person without such disability as described in paragraph (3);

(2) “authorized entity” means a nonprofit organization or a governmental agency that has a primary mission to provide specialized services relating to training, education, or adaptive reading or information access needs of blind or other persons with disabilities;

(3) “eligible person” means an individual who, regardless of any other disability—

(A) is blind;

(B) has a visual impairment or perceptual or reading disability that cannot be improved to give visual function substantially equivalent to that of a person who has no such impairment or disability and so is unable to read printed works to substantially the same degree as a person without an impairment or disability; or

(C) is otherwise unable, through physical disability, to hold or manipulate a book or to focus or move the eyes to the extent that would be normally acceptable for reading; and

(4) “print instructional materials” has the meaning given under section 674(e)(3)(C) of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

(Added Pub. L. 104–197, title III, §â€¯316(a), Sept. 16, 1996, 110 Stat. 2416; amended Pub. L. 106–379, §â€¯3(b), Oct. 27, 2000, 114 Stat. 1445; Pub. L. 107–273, div. C, title III, §â€¯13210(3)(A), Nov. 2, 2002, 116 Stat. 1909; Pub. L. 108–446, title III, §â€¯306, Dec. 3, 2004, 118 Stat. 2807; Pub. L. 115–261, §â€¯2(a)(1), Oct. 9, 2018, 132 Stat. 3667.)

[1] I'm quibbling, but I want to take this footnote to state that including a "fair use" cite in the question is very reasonable, because fair use is often cited as yet another reason to make adaptive copies that go beyond copies authorized by Section 121. Since the copies in this case are without question for those "eligible" under Section 121 (those with reading-impacting disabilities), we're going to sideline fair use at Section 107 for this question, but it very much is a part of the toolbox of creating adaptive works for non-Section 121-eligible disabilities.

[2] There is controversy, but no definitive authority, on if all not-for-profit educational institutions meet the criteria.  Academic publishers have taken a position that it only applies to institutions for the blind, not just any old school or college.  However, an uncontradicted conclusion in the October 10, 2012 district court decision in Authors Guild V. Hathitrust, 902 F. Supp, 2d 445 (2012) opines that because of their mandate to provide accessibility under the ADA, such institutions all are "authorized entities" under Section 121.  Until I read otherwise, my guidance errs on the side of accessibility (see https://www.wnylrc.org/ask-the-lawyer/raqs/246).

[3] In fact, having to abide by this type of requirement could undercut some of the more vital applications of fair use, such as parody or innovation.

[5] I am slightly wary of a system that would force a student to "register" with the library as needing ADA accommodations, but depending on how access is granted, some type of additional log-in or control might be wise.  At higher ed institutions, students and employees arrange accommodation per a policy, and accommodations are generally confirmed in writing, so signing up for access to adaptive copies could be the way to go.  But this will be driven by technology, and care must be taken to not put up any additional hurdles to access.  If any readers out there have solved this issue at your institution, I'd appreciate hearing about it!  Please send that to info@losapllc.com.


Tags: Accessibility, Accommodations, ADA, Copyright, Fair Use, Textbooks

Topic: Re-printing instructional materials for classroom use - 3/9/2018
A teacher would like to reprint a student workbook we can no longer find in print. We tried to get...
Posted: Friday, March 9, 2018 Permalink


A teacher would like to reprint a student workbook we can no longer find in print. We tried to get permission from the company that bought the publisher out, but they said they couldn’t help. At this point, can we prove that we have made a good faith effort to receive permission?


It is frustrating to know just the right resource for a class—and be unable to access enough classroom copies. 

Just as vexing is going the extra mile to seek permission to make your own…only to be told that you’ve reached a dead end.

And yet, class must go on.  We tried to ask…now can we just make those copies?

Unfortunately, a “good faith effort to receive permission” is not a defense from liability for copyright infringement.   Further, introducing evidence of the “good faith effort” to doing things the right way might work against a defendant, since it might limit their ability to claim they are an “innocent infringer” (someone who has no basis to know they are infringing, or made a reasonable but erroneous assumption of fair use). 

Of course, there are some exceptions to this rule.  If the purpose of the copies is to enable commentary and criticism, excerpts sufficient to illustrate the instructor’s point (and no more) may be duplicated.  And a library making an archival or preservation copy under §108 of the Copyright Act might duplicate the entire book (once, but not for classroom use).  But copies for students, whether or not they are sold, do not fall into these categories.

The best solution in this situation may be to find a stalwart staff member who likes to play detective, who can hopefully track down the actual copyright owner.  This can sometimes be determined on copyright.gov, can sometimes be determined from author’s websites, and can sometimes only be distilled by triangulating the information from about five different sources. 

And sometimes, even after a herculean effort, the answer cannot be found.  But no matter what, unauthorized duplication of copyright-protected work without permission can lead to liability and damages…and a defendant showing they tried to ask for permission before doing the copying might make things worse.

Tags: Copyright, Textbooks, Photocopies, Academic Libraries, Fair Use, Section 108

Topic: Sharing supplemental textbook resources 11/17/2017
Can a faculty member, who no longer requires students to buy a textbook, duplicate and share (with...
Posted: Friday, November 17, 2017 Permalink


Can a faculty member, who no longer requires students to buy a textbook, duplicate and share (with the students) the supplemental instructional resources provided by the publisher? The resources can be both digital and hard copy.


Sometimes, an instructor will try and solve both these problems by removing the book from the syllabus, while keeping a few choice materials on hand from the instructor copy supplied by the publisher. This seems like a win-win: the students have one less book to buy, while the lecture notes, visual aids, and LMS can carry forward the valuable content retained by the instructor. But is this scenario allowed?

The answer lies in the specific product’s license. And while there are countless publishers with every permutation of license, that answer will probably be: NO.

How can this be? Isn’t it Fair Use? Didn’t the institution or instructor already buy the materials?

This is where things get interesting.

First: how can this be? It is a very deliberate tactic by the publisher. Responding to a market resisting expensive textbooks, academic publishers are always developing new ways to incentivize purchasing. One technique is selling student materials “coupled” to instructor-side materials via a license. The license conveys a copy, rights of duplication, and perhaps digital sharing for instructor-side materials, conditioned on a requirement that the textbook be “adopted” (officially required) in the course syllabus. The instructor, who is getting free materials, adds the book, and the contractual requirement is met (until it isn’t).

This approach is some pretty clever lawyering (and marketing), since it uses copyright, often some trademark, and a lot of contract law to give instructors more rights than they have under copyright law (to duplicate, upload, etc)…and then yanks those rights away, if the book is no longer required. The fact that these rights are financially under-written by students is one of the unsung tensions of higher ed.1

Second: Fair Use. There are many circumstances in which limited duplication of instructor-side materials could qualify as Fair Use (teaching a course critically analyzing instructor-side materials would be one of them). But simply continuing to use the rights from a license the purchaser has departed from (by no longer adopting the textbook into the syllabus) is not one a Fair Use…it’s just a violation of the contract, and potentially, of copyright. Both could bring penalties; one contractual, and one statutory.

Finally, “First Sale Doctrine”: Some rights to the instructor-side hard copy might be retained under the “First Sale Doctrine,” which allows purchasers to re-sell, read, and retain physical copies once they are in the market.2 But beware…the license could contain a contractual requirement to return the instructor-side materials when the license is no longer valid (this would be done through a rental or other restricted acquisition provision).

The answer to a question like this is almost always in the specific license from the publisher.3 Deviation from those terms, unless there is a very clear case of Fair Use, is not wise.


1 My tone is cynical, but on the flip side, this is how the authors and creators of instructional works get paid. We can discuss the equities of this system another day!


2 The First Sale Doctrine is taking a beating from the increasing reliance on digital copies. But that is yet another topic, for another day!


3 Something our member suggested, when posing the scenario. WNYLRC has savvy members.


Tags: Copyright, Fair Use, Textbooks, Photocopies, Academic Libraries

Topic: Copying of College Textbook Chapters - 5/1/2017
Our question concerns the copying of college textbook chapters for students where the required tex...
Posted: Monday, May 1, 2017 Permalink


Our question concerns the copying of college textbook chapters for students where the required textbook is either backordered by the bookstore day one of semester or where a late enrollees’ textbook is out of stock. 

One current solution involves a limited checkout of a text for the first four weeks of a semester, and only for library use for reading or photocopying. We keep a printout of the standard Copyright notice on the copier to warn against excessive copying. After four weeks, students must have access to the book on their own and textbook copies remain solely as desk copies for faculty. 

However, what is advised when multiple classes do not have textbooks in stock and late enrollees are more prevalent? What does copyright permit in terms of copying textbook chapters or providing e-links to textbook chapters on LMS (Blackboard, etc.) in such cases?


It’s 2017.  Digital access to academic resources having been a factor in academic life for over 20 years, it would be reasonable to think I would have clear, well-established guidance to give you.

However, as of 2016, the United States was still struggling with Fair Use, and the law doesn’t give us the bright-line rules we are hoping for.   Rather, particularly with regard to textbooks and digital access, recent case law has diminished them.

Very comparable to the circumstances you described is the case Cambridge University Press v. Mark P. Becker No. 1:08-cv-01425-ODE (N.D. Ga. Mar. 31, 2016).  In Cambridge, a court in Georgia, after trying to use a simpler, equally weighted Fair Use analysis, and relying on the ill-fated “10% standard” of duplication, ruled that when creating digital copies/excerpts of textbooks:

(1) the first factor, purpose and character of the use, weighs in favor of fair use because [a university] is a nonprofit educational institution;

(2) the second factor, the nature of the work, is “of comparatively little weight…particularly because the works at issue are neither fictional nor unpublished;”

(3) the third factor, the amount of work used, must be viewed through the lens of “the impact of market substitution as recognized under factor four, in determining whether the quantity and substantiality . . .of [d]efendants’ unlicensed copying was excessive;” and

(4) the fourth factor, the effect of the use on the potential market for the work, “concern[ed] not the market for Plaintiffs’ original works . . . but rather a market for licenses.”

This case shows that a when it comes to textbooks, while courts will give strong deference to educational institutions, there is no “magic formula” (like 10% of the content) they will apply to ensure Fair Use.  Rather, courts will apply a nuanced analysis that changes from work to work, and from use to use—making general guidance a challenge.

With all that in mind, my answer to the inquiry is:

First, the ability of the student/patron to physically access or check out the book is a great service by your library; with the required copyright notices posted, and no attempt by the library to collude with students in making prohibited copies, you are taking good advantage of section 108’s exemptions of libraries from liability for infringement.  In addition, providing access to textbooks within the structure outlined above is a great incentive for students to visit the library.

Second, your actual question—can my library use digital access to help students who were late registrants or otherwise unable to secure a physical or full digital copy?—requires application of the Fair Use factors on a work-by-work basis, which as we can see, is an increasingly intricate and fact-specific exercise.   You must apply the four factors not just on a work-by-work basis, but while considering the specific purpose of a particular use.

There are also some practical tips that can help you avoid being sued for infringement.

Tip #1: To answer questions like this, I always put myself in the shoes of the potential plaintiff.

· If I were the publisher, would I view the digitized access as cutting into my potential revenues? 

· Is there an easily obtainable license for the excerpt, that the library is just choosing to ignore?

· Can I, as the publisher, easily put a price on the damages? 

All these factors, if the answer is “yes,” can lead to the publisher instructing their lawyer to file suit. 

However, even if all of these are true, I, the publisher, would also ask…did every person who accessed the digital copy already have a copy on back-order (and not return it)?   If they bought my book, and were only using the digitization as a place-holder, I, the publisher, would tell my lawyer to look elsewhere for damages…especially since when I, the publisher lose, I am responsible for the legal fees of the other party (in the Cambridge case, the publisher was told to pay the fees of the university).

Tip #2: It is unfortunate that, like the courts, I can’t give a simple formula for Fair Use.  However, one way you can sometimes get a bit of “free” advice on this is to consult with your institution’s insurance carrier.  It is very likely your institution is insured for copyright infringement, and that they have a list of best practices they would like to ensure you, the insured, are following.  As a professional within the library, it is good to also confirm that this coverage will cover not only the institution, but you as an employee.  That can help you sleep at night.

Tip #3: And finally, if ever an entity notifies you that they are suing you for infringement, notify your insurance carrier right away.  Often times, they can provide counsel, and help you reach a quick, low-stress resolution.

Tags: Copyright, Digital Access, Fair Use, Textbooks, Photocopies, Work-for-Hire, Academic Libraries

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