RAQs: Recently Asked Questions

Topic: Interlibrary Loan Electronic Transmission Privacy - 07/26/2022
For an Interlibrary Loan Electronic Transmission (whether printed out and included with the item(s...
Posted: Tuesday, July 26, 2022 Permalink


For an Interlibrary Loan Electronic Transmission (whether printed out and included with the item(s) or sent via electronic means) in a K-12 setting, can a student's name (the one ultimately borrowing the item) be used in the "receipt" or notification slip? Should a student's School ID number be used? Can both be used at the same time? Is it taboo to have a student's name in ANY electronic transmission?



This question comes at us from a school district public library and supporting Board of Cooperative Educational Services ("BOCES").

One thing I knew very little[1] about when I started doing "Ask the Lawyer" was school district public library systems.  These are systems coordinated through a regional BOCES, creating a network of library resources, governed by their own section of the New York Education Law (and regulations, and Regents rules).

Over the years, the existence and importance of school district public library systems has grown more and more obvious to me--to the point where now, if you are so unfortunate to be trapped in an elevator with me, I might tell you all about them from ground level to the 32nd floor.[2]

One thing I would mention, around floor 15 or so, is that school district public libraries (and systems) have to balance privacy and data security obligations from a wide array of different state and federal laws.  I have written on this before (see "Ask the Lawyer #67, #80, and #143), and won't re-hash that here, except to say: everything in those past answers impacts this question.

With those prior columns as background, the answers to the member's three questions are:

For an Interlibrary Loan Electronic Transmission (whether printed out and included with the item(s) or sent via electronic means) in a K-12 setting, can a student's name (the one ultimately borrowing the item) be used in the "receipt" or notification slip?

Yes, if the library's policy requires it for the "proper operation" of the library (CPLR 4509), AND if the school can assure that only those who need to see it (for the benefit of the student) will see it (FERPA) or the student has signed a FERPA waiver, AND if all the required measures for data privacy are in place (ED2-d).

Should a student's School ID number be used? Can both be used at the same time?

Yes, if the library's policy requires it for the "proper operation" of the library (CPLR 4509), AND if the school can assure that only those who need to see it (for the benefit of the student) will see it (FERPA) or the student has signed a FERPA waiver, AND if all the required measures for data privacy are in place (ED2-d).

Is it taboo to have a student's name in ANY electronic transmission?

No, but school district and BOCES systems creating and transmitting such records should always be confident that the use of the student's name is in a document generated and transmitted per applicable policy.

This is tougher than it sounds, since schools now have so many electronic systems facilitating record-making and communication--a situation compounded by online learning during the pandemic.  Further, the decision to use those systems might be driven by function and cost, with only secondary attention being paid to privacy, as addressed in "Ask the Lawyer" #67, #80, and #143.

Since this question is rooted in interlibrary loan, I'll end with an example.

Below is a partial screenshot from the demo screen of OPALS, a popular ILS used by school district libraries (and other types of libraries, too).

As you'll see, OPALS enables the "viewing of all the borrowers in an attending class...."

Screenshot from OPALS Demo Screen. Part of a drop down menu with options for SCORE, CD, Audio, and DVD. The number 10 and the date 2015-08-18 is listed for each option. Below the menu is text that reads Group Loan Transactions Option for lines of elementary borrowers. Circulation system has an option to pre-load student names and status for a selected homeroom/teacher, reducing transaction processing time by 50-75% - especially helpful, when district networks experience latency. Viewing all of the borrowers in an attending class makes lending more efficient, creating more time to spend with students to develop literacy and research skills.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this type of grouping of borrowers, so long as the district has addressed the various privacy obligations, and made sure the functionality and use of the system (in this example, OPALS) align with the school's approach and policies on privacy.

In other words, nothing should be left to chance.

So, with that, my ultimate answer--to all three questions-- is: any time a public school student's name is listed on a library record that leaves the bounds of the library (the "real" or virtual bounds), every unique way that happens (injury report, student discipline, interlibrary loan) should be covered by policy.

Now, let's consider how this issue looks "on the ground."  I poked around a bit, and while I found many interlibrary loan policies for school district library systems/BOCES in NY, I didn't find one that went so far into the weeds as setting terms for how/when to include borrower names on the routing slips (printed or electronic).

Chances are, that's usually more of a "standard operating procedure" thing, rather than something set by formal "policy."[3]

But with increasing interconnectivity between library other school systems, it might be worth formalizing in future interlibrary loan policies.  For instance, one sentence: "When effecting interlibrary loan, cooperating libraries shall mutually adhere to the other libraries' and systems' policies regarding borrower privacy"[4]  is a sample of how to add a quick reminder about this critical consideration.

Because as the member's questions indicate, we can never be too "in the weeds" on privacy.

Thank you for an important array of questions.

[1] Okay, actually, nothing.

[2] In this mythical trip up 32 floors, we are visiting Buffalo City Hall, which if you have never seen, is a must-visit location.

[3] New York is a big state!  I have no doubt there is a policy that does address this.  If your district has one, please send a link to info@losapllc.com and reference this RAQ.

[4] This is just sample language...no matter what you select, make sure your school district's attorney or BOCES system director reviews and approves any policy before it goes into effect!


Tags: CPLR 4509, Ed Law 2-d, FERPA, Loaning programs, Privacy, School Libraries

Topic: Dos and Don'ts Of Addressing School Library Censorship - 06/29/2022
NOTE: On 5/13/22, Erie 1 BOCES hosted a program[1] regarding school library materials management.&...
Posted: Wednesday, June 29, 2022 Permalink


NOTE: On 5/13/22, Erie 1 BOCES hosted a program[1] regarding school library materials management.  That same week, the Erie County Bar Association hosted a CLE on the same topic[2].

At both programs, school district library personnel discussed the ethics of their professions.  They also shared their personal experiences with collection management issues, including attempted censorship of library materials.

Both sessions were inspired by concerns, rooted in the current political climate, that school districts could feel pressure to sidestep policy and direct the removal or limitation of "controversial" library materials without due process.

The law, policy, and case law covered at the session was extensive. Below is a summary of the major take-aways, in a "Do's and Don'ts" format.


What are the "legal do's and don'ts" of school district library collection management in New York?

[1] "Collection, Selection, Objection": the recording can be located through your regional BOCES or school district library system.



DO ensure your school district library system, school district, or school has a robust and well-thought-out "school library materials policy"[1] ("Policy") governing selection, procurement, cataloging, lending, concerns, re-evaluation, and removal of library materials.

DON'T forget to train every person with a role in that Policy[2] on how it works, and why the district has it in place; this includes spending time on the law, regulations, and ethics[3] that govern it.

DO ensure that experienced lawyers and policy-makers have reviewed the Policy for both legal compliance, and compatibility with the unique environment at your district or school.

For example, if your school has an active PTA that likes to fund-raise and donate books to the school library, the method of accepting those donations should conform to the "selection" part of the Policy.[4]

DON'T adopt a Policy and then let it gather dust.  A policy that governs selection, procurement, cataloging, lending, concerns, re-evaluation, and removal of school library materials is a vital part of a school's library--which is a vital part of a school.

DO make sure your Policy honors the professionalism and qualifications of your school librarians and media specialists.  When considering how your district's Policy applies in real-world situations, remember that your school library staff are trained in the selection of library materials.   Because of that, your district's Policy will delegate responsibility for selection and cataloging to those professionals[5] ...and the law in New York, policy of your district, and job descriptions will back that authority up.

DON'T create a potential liability for your school by taking quick steps related to library collection management issues without checking with your district's Policy and lawyer.  Cases such as Pico[6],  the seminal case regarding school board over-reach regarding school materials, happened because school leadership took hasty action without considering policy.

DO maintain familiarity with the most basic tenets of the law in New York regarding school district library systems and school library operations.  This includes Education Law § 1709(1), Education Law §1711[2] [c, d], Education §Law 701, Education law §702, Education Law §310, 8 NYCRR § 90.18 and 91.2.  For a good primer on these, review the NYSED Commissioner Decision 14,229  "Matter of Carney."[7]

Notably, the case law and NY Education Commissioner decisions emanating from these laws and regulations show that ad hoc decisions about curricular and library materials imposed without consulting policy can lead to legal claims, creating unnecessary media attention, community tension, and expense for school districts.

DON'T impose "creative work-arounds" such as using "soft" directives to influence school library collection issues without following policy.

Hypothetical examples of such "creative work-arounds" include:

  • Directing library staff to keep "controversial" books in the collection, but move them off the shelves and into a store-room;
  • Stigmatizing books in the collection by making them available "by request only";
  • Telling parents and guardians with concerns that library material will be removed, without referring them to the relevant policy for lodging a complaint or requesting that it be re-evaluated;
  • Identifying books that may only be checked out after obtaining parent/guardian consent[8];
  • Sharing lists of books checked out by students in excess of what professional ethics, FERPA and CPLR 4509 (regarding privacy) allow;
  • Directing school library employees to avoid selecting a certain "type" of material, even if that material is otherwise appropriate per the district's Policy;
  • Basing content bans on categories of identity protected by local, state, and federal civil rights laws.

These are just a few examples...but anything that would remove or restrict access to school library materials, without applying due process, risks a legal concern and tripping the factors found unconstitutional in Pico.

DO build an administrative and educational team that is READY to respond to concerns about curricular and library materials.  

When it comes to content choices in the classroom or in the library, no Superintendent, Principal, or school board chair can do it all. 

A team consisting of the school librarian, experienced teachers and administrators, the district's lawyer, and as needed, the school board, should be ready to respond promptly when there are materials concerns. [9]

DO remember that for every school library material challenged, there are people being impacted by the challenge--including yourself.

These are tough times for school administrators.   Across the country, there is a great awakening to the importance of school boards and the leadership of public institutions such as libraries.

This is good, but it has turned school districts and libraries into zones of potential controversy, with administrators charged with keeping the peace--and people threatening lawsuits on all sides.

At such times, there are three things that, when combined, can create refuge and stability:

First: a cool head.

Do not take an ad hoc action when presented with a library materials concern; lead with policy.

Second: a good team. 

Rely on your people.  They will help ensure legal compliance, the well-being of students, and good service to the community.

Third: a solid policy.

Have it, know it, follow it.

Administrators who find the culture wars on the doorstep of their schools cannot avoid controversy.  But when controversy arrives, if they DO follow policy, and DON'T take ad hoc steps in a panic, school administrators can provide a structure for communities to navigate open and honest discussions[10] of library materials, community values, and their educational environment.

Below is a template[11] for organizing a response, when a library materials[12] issue happens at your school.

School library material concern worksheet

For internal and personal use only

Important information


Material at issue (title, author, media):



Material catalog information (year acquired, category, shelf location):



First date person using form became aware of complaint:


Complaint made by:


Note: Person is the "Complainant"



Is the complainant a parent or guardian?



Is the Complainant part of a group?


Attach group information




Based on their relationship to the school or community, does the Complainant have standing to make a complaint?


If yes, continue with worksheet...


Is the Complainant following the formal complaint process?



Has the Complainant been provided with a copy of the policy governing how to make a complaint?


Name of school librarian



Other school staff involved in complaint or concern



What is/are the relevant policies?

[attach all policies that apply or might apply]



What people are assembled to help with or to effect response ("Response Team")?



What professional ethics do the members of the response team have to consider when working on this issue?

[attach copies of any relevant codes of ethics as confirmed by team member]




Is there a student involved?



What person on the response team is the primary contact with the student?



Is there any safety or well-being concern for any person involved?



Is there any media or social media discussion of this issue? 


[attach printouts of relevant content]


Is there a relevant union contract or other contract?

[attach contract or relevant section]



Who is the spokesperson for the school or district on this matter?




Track relevant deadlines set by policy or commitment to involved parties:

















What was the final outcome of this issue?



When was this matter considered to be complete?



[1] Across New York, this type of policy has many names, and sometimes, is covered by numerous policies.  New York prioritizes local control of school district policy, so a diversity of approaches is right and proper.  The point is that no matter what it is called, or how many policies end up applying, a district has a policy that covers selection, procurement, cataloging, lending, concerns, re-evaluation, and removal of school library materials.  Very often, this will need to be coordinated across school library systems.

[2] For the rest of this article, we're using "Policy" with a capital "P" to denote whatever policy or combination of policies a district has adopted.  That's right, with a capital "P" that rhymes with "C" that stands for "cool" (as in, "We're cool; we have a Policy for this").

[3] The ethics of the profession of school librarian as emphasized by NYSED are found at http://www.nysed.gov/curriculum-instruction/teaching-learning-intellectual-freedom

[4] Sometimes, this might mean having to say "No, thank you," or "We need to take a different approach," to the PTA.  Just another day in school administration.

[5] This is another factor that will vary from district to district in New York, but every policy I have seen grants a significant role to the librarian.  This is why a good hiring pipeline for qualified school librarians and media specialists is critical.

[6] Found at: https://www.oyez.org/cases/1981/80-2043 . This US Supreme Court case ruled that "although school boards have a vested interest in promoting respect for social, moral, and political community values, their discretionary power is secondary to the transcendent imperatives of the First Amendment." 

[8] This one is a HUGE concern, because in addition to potential legal and regulatory violations (about which countless law review articles and books have been written), it sets a precedent of parent/guardian pre-approval for ALL school materials...something that is antithetical to the democratic process by which public schools operate. 

[9] "Promptly"...but not immediately.  The benefit of having a team ready to go, and letting parents or community members know that your school is organizing a response per your district's policy, is that it signals that you take the complaint seriously, but also gives the situation breathing room.

[10] Yes, I know "open and honest" can often sound "angry and passionate."

[11] As with all templates on "Ask the Lawyer," this one is illustrative only.  A district or administrator wanting to develop such a resource should confirm a final draft with their lawyer.

[12] This template is for library materials concerns; there are some different factors when there is a challenge to curricular materials.


Tags: Book challenges, Censorship, First Amendment, Intellectual Freedom, Policy, School Board, School Districts, School Libraries, School Policy

Topic: Screening DVD as part of curriculum - 04/04/2022
If a teacher teaches a novel in school, can they show the DVD of the movie under fair use?  ...
Posted: Monday, April 4, 2022 Permalink


If a teacher teaches a novel in school, can they show the DVD of the movie under fair use?



This question was submitted by a system serving elementary and secondary schools.

The answer for those schools (and for higher education, too) is: if the viewing of the DVD is tied to the reading of the book and the content is part of the class/curriculum, then YES, it can be viewed in class.

This exception to infringement by a school is found in 17 U.S.C. 110  (1), which states:

...the following are not infringements of copyright:

(1) performance or display of a work by instructors or pupils in the course of face-to-face teaching activities of a nonprofit educational institution, in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction, unless, in the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, the performance, or the display of individual images, is given by means of a copy that was not lawfully made under this title, and that the person responsible for the performance knew or had reason to believe was not lawfully made;

So, to be clear: at a not-for-profit school, as part of the curriculum, in the school's designated learning space, the "movie based on the book" can be viewed as part of  the curriculum...so long as the copy being watched was not pirated or otherwise obtained through the shady  (but now losing ground to illegal streaming) DVD black market.

Thank you for this question.


Tags: Copyright, DVDs, Fair Use, Movies, School Libraries, Section 110

Topic: Using a YouTube Video to create another video - 03/16/2022
I am asking this on behalf of the Elementary School in my district. (I work in the library of our ...
Posted: Wednesday, March 16, 2022 Permalink


I am asking this on behalf of the Elementary School in my district. (I work in the library of our district's high school). The Elementary School participates every year in a program called PARP. (Parents As Reading Partners). The teachers and principal always make some sort of video to kick this off this event since pandemic times.

This year the entire school is reading the SAME book: The World According to Humphrey, by Betty G. Birny. (It's a story about a Hamster and how he deals with life issues). My district's teachers want to "borrow" liberally from this Animoto video: https://animoto.com/play/ICom40fpoTdMzDov931aDQ

This video contains four components: 1. Another School (We'll call it School X, an independent school in California essentially doing the same thing), 2. an interview with the author segment, Betty G. Birny, 3. an interview with a store clerk from PetCo and 4. a video of a hamster performing "cute antics" with a voice-over dubbed in called April's Animals. (This individual posts varied animal videos on YouTube)

What my teachers want to do is create their OWN video of teachers and the principal endorsing this book, interspersed with the hamster video from April's Animals. I did observe at the end of the Animoto video, there were credits provided. My school would not use the PetCo interview or the Author Interview or the School X video as those segments are directly related to that specific school. They want to do the same idea and only use the video provided by April's Animals. I didn't know if this would be problematic because we are a public school, this would not be posted on YouTube. It would be shown over our school network to our K-2 classrooms one time only.



The short answer to this question is: IF the video is only going to include the YouTube animal clips, and IF it is only going to be used in the school for instructional purposes, the proposed use is fine, since copyright section 110(1)[1] allows schools to play videos in class if the topic is related to a class, and YouTube doesn't limit use of its service to "personal" uses.

Now, I say "mostly" fine because, technically, the combination of the YouTube content into another video compilation could be considered the creation of a "derivative work" (like a sequel or a mash-up), instead of just "performing" (playing) the video as allowed by law.  But if the copy truly isn't leaving school grounds, and the "performance" is to promote a reading program in the classroom, and the footage really is just being swapping in and out with interviews with school staff, it would be a stretch for anyone to claim infringement.

With respect to the other issue that I detect in the question--would "School X" have a claim against the school for pinching its idea? I don't think so.  The project you describe is sufficiently different from theirs; after all, they got their author for their endeavor, and your school is focusing on local talent.  You can't copyright an idea[2]...just its expression.

When it comes to a school generating original educational content inspired by others, for use only within that school, the key is to model the type of respect for others that educators want to instill in their students, while taking full advantage of the protections educators have under the law.

In this case, "Respect" means not using pirated copies when a school plays instructional movies, and not using more content than the school is entitled to when the instruction is online.  "Protections," among other things, means that for in-person instruction, videos can be played, and for online instruction, parts of videos can be played, so long as the performance is from legitimate copies.[3]

[NOTE: For schools that want to up their game and start producing original content they will share with the world: this answer is not for you.  If any school out there is thinking of becoming an author/producer/provider of educational materials, don't rely on this answer, and develop a business plan that includes how to respect and protect IP.]

And finally, I have to say: thank you for this question.  First, it got me onto Animoto, which I am totally going to check out.[4]  And second: I love PARP.  Some of my fondest circa-1980 memories are of filling out my PARP form with my folks, after some time reading together on the couch,[5] so this question made me smile.  It's good to see the program is going strong, and the hamsters of the world are showing us how to cope with the ups and downs of life.


[1] 110(1) allows "Performance...of a work by instructors ...in the course of face-to-face teaching activities of a nonprofit educational institution, in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction, unless, in the case of a motion picture...the performance... is given by means of a copy that was not lawfully made...."

[2] Of course, you can patent certain ideas, so please don't think I'm touting intellectual property anarchy.

[3] This aspect of Copyright Section 110 is different than the issue of streaming services being limited for personal use, and thus not always the best place for educators to get their in-class movies.

[4] I clearly don't get out much.

[5] My parents still have the same couch, which they got in 1964.   They are the greenest people I know.

Tags: Copyright, School Libraries, Section 110, Streaming, TEACH Act

Topic: Book Challenges and Records Retention - 02/11/2022
In a local school district, multiple books have been challenged recently. This week, the School Bo...
Posted: Friday, February 11, 2022 Permalink


In a local school district, multiple books have been challenged recently. This week, the School Board received an email from a community member referencing record keeping for library materials and electronic records retention. The district Superintendent wants to make sure that the district is keeping the right kind of library records, and that they are keeping them for the legal amount of time. Attached are two documents to review. In the first document titled District Records, under #15, it advised that districts should keep a list of book lists and school library reports. With this, should the district have kept a list of all books in their libraries in any given year?


In speaking to different libraries about being prepared for book challenges, I have repeatedly stressed one very important element: have your policies ready.

This question shows the depth of consideration that goes into that simple requirement.

In this case, that "depth" is found in the rocky chasm of the LGS-1, New York's end-all, be-all rules for public document management.  Need to know how long to keep records for a bingo game authorized by a village?[1]  Or how long to keep a record of exhumation?[2]  Or how long we hang onto bridge inspection records?[3] It's all in the LGS-1.

The documents the member references are sections of the LGS-1.

They look like this:

Screenshot of Local Government Schedule (LGS-1) referring to School District Records.  Please refer to links in the footnotes for a text based copy of the schedule.


Screenshot of Local Government Schedule (LGS-1) referring to School District Records.  Please refer to links in the footnotes for a text based copy of the schedule.

Looking at these requirements, the member's question is: "[S]hould the district have kept a list of all books in their libraries in any given year?"

The answer is: MAYBE, but not DEFINITELY.

Here is why:

The first section referenced by the member, at first blush, looks like it requires the retention of "book lists" for six years.  But examining that precise section, you will see the requirement is limited to records submitted prior to the "consolidation of school districts." 

So, outside of a district consolidation, section LGS-1 15, does not require compiling a list of books.

The next sections, LGS-1 598 and 599, refer to a school district maintaining records related to a "Catalog of holdings" and "Individual title purchase requisition," respectively.

We'll tackle 598 first.

598 requires that a "Manuscript or published catalog" of "holdings" must be retained "permanently."  It then requires that a "Continuously updated catalog" be retained until it is "superseded" or "obsolete."

This means that a district library's "catalog of holdings" that exists in a static form (like a print or PDF list) must be retained permanently, but a list of holdings that is ever-changing (like an ILS) is only retained until it changes form--or that form stops being useful.[4]

In practical terms, this does mean that if the library produces a static list (in print or electronic form), it must be retained forever.  That obligation, however, does not obligate the library to create such a list in the first place.  Meaning, in other words: if the library only uses an ever-changing catalog, it doesn't need to retain any particular copy.

This brings us to 599, which requires that an "[i]ndividual title purchase requisition" (the documentation showing a school library bought a book) must be retained for one year.

Again, in practical terms: while per 598, a school library is not obligated to compile a printed list showing that "Not All Boys are Blue" is in its library's collection, per 599, it does have to retain (and produce, if not otherwise accessible through FOIL) a school’s requisition to purchase "Not All Boys are Blue" if requested.

This gets more interesting as one considers that LGS-1 600 (also seen in the purple-bordered excerpt above), regarding "Records documenting selection of books" sets no minimum retention period.  Meanwhile, LGS-1 601, regarding "Library material censorship and complaint records" mandates such records be retained for at least six years (and encourages considering saving them for much longer, which strikes me as a good idea).

The upshot of these various rules creates a regime where a district is empowered to pick and choose, to some degree, what records it wants to create...but once created, imposes a very particular set of parameters for retaining, purging, and disclosing them.  This is why my answer to the member's question must be so ambiguous.

It is also why it is very important that a district have a well-developed policy on this issue.

Below are some examples of what, depending on the records a district elects to create, a district can say in answer to the question: "I want to make sure I approve of all the books my taxes paid for this year.  Can I have a list of all the books?"

[If the library maintains a published list and wants to be friendly.] "Sure thing.  We compile and publish a list of books in our collection every year as of the first Monday of September.  Do you want the one showing all the books in one particular library, or all the books in the district?"

[If the library doesn't maintain a published list, but has a continuously updated catalog, feels friendly, and allows access to library computers.] "No, we don't publish such a list.  But we do have a continuously updated catalog you can search on this terminal."

[If the library doesn't maintain a published list, has a continuously updated catalog, doesn't allow just anybody access to its computers, but feels somewhat helpful.] "No, we don't publish such a list.  But we do have a continuously updated catalog you can request a copy of."

[If the library doesn't maintain a published list, doesn't allow access to computers, and doesn't feel helpful, but does feel puckish.] "No, but if requested, we can supply you with a copy of every book requisitioned last year."[5]

[If the library doesn't maintain a published list, and doesn't want to offer alternative ways to share the information.] "No, we don't have that."

[If the library doesn't maintain a published list, and is okay risking a spat.]


Optional rider to all the above answers: "Here is a copy of our FOIL policy so you know the process for requesting our public records through our FOIL officer, and can be aware of our copying charges and the process for requesting electronic copies."

Now, as any veteran of public relations battles over school district policy knows, there's a time to be helpful, and there's a time to say "no."  I am not endorsing any particular answer, but based on a district's policy, it should know what records it keeps (and doesn't keep), and how people can access them.

From my perspective, if there isn't a need to compile information, it shouldn't be compiled.  Further, FOIL does not create the obligation to compile information if it is not already compiled.  On the other hand, waffling and appearing to dodge the question when concerned citizens are on the hunt for "objectionable material" might not be the best way to fight the battle for intellectual freedom.  "We don't have a list but we have a continuously updated database" strikes me as a glove-slap; it invites a fight...but nevertheless, if accurate, might be a perfectly valid response.

From my high horse over here in law-law land, a district should proceed from the presumption that if a book is in a school library's catalog, it belongs there; this is the stance that supports intellectual freedom, while also setting a good example for the students (but I am not the one who has to deal with angry community members storming a school board meeting).

Regardless of my personal thoughts on the diplomatic aspects of this issue, from the perspective of intellectual freedom, information access, education law, the LGS-1, and the First Amendment, here is what's important: have a sound policy governing 1) how library books are selected; 2) how library books are cataloged;[6] 3) how library books are challenged; and 4) how library books are removed, and follow that policy.

If, as part of that policy, a district has the desire and capacity to create an annual (or decennial, or whatever time span it wants) list of books in the school library catalog, great, but if such a list is created, it must be kept forever.  And if the district only uses a continuously updated library catalog, it should be clear from the policy who can access it, and how (at the school?  By appointment?  Remotely?).  And all of this turns on the district having a designated FOIL officer and process for timely responding to, assessing, and meeting FOIL requests.

So, there is my answer...and I know it rests on a dangerous triangle of law, practicality, diplomacy.   This stuff isn't easy.

I wish you a clear head, a steady heart, and a ready wit as you face whatever challenges come your way.

[1] 8 NYCRR §185.15 (2020); see schedule items 562-564.

[2] 8 NYCRR §185.15 (2020); see schedule item 136.

[3] 8 NYCRR §185.15 (2020); see schedule item 1085.   By the way, it's "6 years after structure no longer in use or inspected features have been replaced," which I find rather terrifying.

[4] Kind of whimsically sad notion: "You are needed, until you change or you aren't needed."  I would love to meet the person who wrote this part of the LGS-1; they had to be a philosophy major.

[5] I don't advise using this one.

[6] Including having a published list, or simply having a continuously updated database.

Tags: First Amendment, LGS-1, Policy, Record Retention, School Libraries, Book challenges

Topic: School Libraries Template for Copiers - 02/11/2022
We were asked about signage to post over the copier at a schools where educational materials are c...
Posted: Friday, February 11, 2022 Permalink


We were asked about signage to post over the copier at a schools where educational materials are copied. Below is some template language with footnotes explaining why they say what they do.  Of course, before posting in your school or library, check with your lawyer!




This means 4 important things:

1.  Copying a copyright-protected work here could be a copyright violation[1].

2.  Copying protected works is sometimes allowed under "fair use."[2]  Our school's fair use policy is posted INSERT.

3.  Copying a copyrighted work to accommodate a disability under the ADA is allowed.   However, to do that, please see the [insert office for disability services] staff, since adaptive copies have special rules,[3] and we want to help you (or a person you are assisting) exercise your rights.

4.   Under the TEACH Act,[4] you may display or perform certain copyright-protected content in class, but that does not allow you to make additional copies for in-class or online instruction.  Please don't make copies that exceed the permission obtained by the school (unless you use our policy to determine it is fair use).

The copy machines are here for your use, and we appreciate your consideration of these laws.



[1] 17 U.S.C. 106 reserves the making of copies to the copyright owner.

[2] 17. U.S.C. 107 allows copying under certain circumstances, but simply "educational" or "not-for-profit"  use is not enough.  Read the guide at the link!

[4] Section 110 of the Copyright Act.

Tags: ADA, Copyright, Fair Use, School Libraries, Section 110, TEACH Act, Templates

Topic: Popular music in Public K-12 Schools - 09/15/2021
I am struggling to find information on using popular music in public K-12 schools. I have the foll...
Posted: Wednesday, September 15, 2021 Permalink


I am struggling to find information on using popular music in public K-12 schools. I have the following areas I am trying to find information about:
1. Can a teacher use a Spotify account in their classroom?
2. Can a teacher use music with face-to-face instruction?
3. Can a service provider (counselor, therapist, social worker...) use music with students?
4. Can music be played during sporting events
5. Can music be used as part of the morning announcements

Thank you!


Welcome to "Back to School 2021"...a year unlike any other!

I have weathered many K-12 "back-to-schools."  For instance, second grade back-to-school, for me, was in 1980.  For my son, it was in 2010.  And for my daughter, it was just a few days before I sat down to write this.

That 1980-to-2021 time span has allowed me to realize two things:

Realization #1: Erasers smell the same in 2021 as they did in 1980; and

Realization #2: Back-to-school 2021 kicked off in a world that has gone through a lot of rapid and (at times) de-stabilizing change.[1]

The good news about realization #2 is that the law--which tends to change much more slowly than the world around it-- is much the same.  So, for this answer, where we can, we'll be linking back to prior "Ask the Lawyer" answers, and where there is something new, we'll add it.

QUESTION 1: Can a teacher use a Spotify account in their classroom?

ANSWER: Not unless the license has changed to allow more than "personal use."  For more on that, see "Using Streaming Services (Hulu, Netflix) in the Classroom - 4/17/2019" at https://www.wnylrc.org/ask-the-lawyer/raqs/79

QUESTION 2: Can a teacher use music with face-to-face instruction?

ANSWER:  Yes, so long as the music is part of the instruction, and the copy of the song was legally obtained.[2]

QUESTION 3: Can a service provider (counselor, therapist, social worker...) use music with students?

ANSWER:  There is no automatic permission or exception to the copyright law that allows a mental health service provider to use recordings, sheet music, or other copyright-protected property for purposes of licensed service.[3]

QUESTION 4: Can music be played during sporting events?

If the recorded or streamed music is protected by copyright, it should only be played with a license.

NOTE: Public schools will want to consult their lawyers about their risks in this regard now that the U.S. Supreme Court has (arguably) struck down the ability to sue "the state" and its subdivisions for copyright infringement.

5. Can music be used as part of the morning announcements?
If the music is protected by copyright, it should only be played with a license. 

NOTE: Public schools will want to consult their lawyers about their risks in this regard now that the U.S. Supreme Court has (arguably) struck down the ability to sue "the state" and its subdivisions for copyright infringement.

And with that, I wish you a joyous back-to-school.

[1] Perhaps this is why I found the familiar aroma of new "Pink Pearl" erasers comforting.

[2] This is allowed per Section 110(1) of the Copyright Act, which states that "performance or display of a work by instructors or pupils in the course of face-to-face teaching activities of a nonprofit educational institution, in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction" is not infringement. 

[3] As I write that, it strikes me that such services are so important, ensuring the resource can be used legally is important.  There are a number of ways to do that, depending on the precise circumstances.

Tags: Academic Libraries, Fair Use, Music, School Libraries, Section 110, Streaming

Topic: School library records retention - 01/21/2021
We got a question regarding how the new rules for records retention (the "LGS-1") impact...
Posted: Thursday, January 21, 2021 Permalink


We got a question regarding how the new rules for records retention (the "LGS-1") impacts the retention of school library borrowing records.

Under the new LGS-1, how long must school library borrowing records be retained?  How does that impact BOCES, district, and school library records purging? 



Thank you for this question.  The LGS-1 is one of my favorite rabbit holes to explore.

I took a look at Schedule Item 596, which applies to "Borrowing or loaning records."  I have put a screenshot of the section, as it appears in the schedule as displayed on the NY State Archives web site: http://www.archives.nysed.gov/common/archives/files/lgs1.pdf

Screenshot of Schedule Item 596 on

As you can see in the screenshot, 596 fixes the retention period for borrowing or loaning records for school libraries as "0 years after no longer needed."

"No longer needed" is one of those phrases in the LGS-1 that renders the retention period variable.  This flexibility can be both helpful and frustrating, since a district, BOCES, or school library must determine, via policy, what "needed" means.

This can vary from place to place, but in all instances should be based on a determination of what is meant (for the district/BOCES/or school library) by "need," and then confirmed in a policy.

After that, best practice is always to purge records once their retention period is over, and for something as deeply connected to ethics, compliance and privacy as library records,[1] that is doubly true.  For school libraries, that retention period is zero, once the records are no longer needed.

Therefore: determining how long student library borrowing records are "needed" (something that may vary from library to library, district to district, BOCES to BOCES), and then purging the record as soon as possible,[2] is a good way to use the LGS-1 to enhance an institution's commitment to privacy.


Thanks to the member for bringing up this nuance.  These issues are at the crossroads of ethics, compliance and automation, and require continuous and careful attention to detail and resulting policy.



[1] Please see "Ask the Lawyer" here for a discussion of school library records, CPLR 4509, and FERPA.

[2] The LGS-1 encourages, but does not require, "the systematic disposal of unneeded records."

Tags: , Privacy, Records Management, Record Retention, School Libraries, LGS-1

Topic: Parent access to student Google accounts - 1/8/2021
As we transformed to fully/largely remote learning and pulled all student work and interactions on...
Posted: Friday, January 8, 2021 Permalink


As we transformed to fully/largely remote learning and pulled all student work and interactions onto Google platforms, a question has arisen about the intersection between student privacy and parent access to student accounts. Currently, if a parent is given their child's google log in information, they will have access to far more than ever in the past. Because of authentication agreements, library records, database access, all stored documents, any Google classroom the student is enrolled in, classlists for those classrooms, comments from teachers, peer work on group projects...this is likely not an exhaustive list!

My 2 biggest areas of concern are 1) access to library check outs and 2) ability to see that a student is enrolled in a classroom for the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) at the school and the entire class list of other members.

I am told by my administrators that FERPA allows for parents to be given student log in information. The RAQ, post "Topic: Patron Confidentiality in School Libraries - 5/6/2019" gave very good information but both the online aspect and the myriad of elements that are exposed with that single password compel me to seek more details. Thank you!


Thank you for this careful and thoughtful question.  As we rush to migrate education to online, the small details can get overlooked.  As the member writes, information that used to be safeguarded in physical files or with separate passwords is increasingly accessible via a "one-stop shop."

Depending on the type of information involved, any number of ethical, privacy, and legal concerns can be impacted.

In this question, the member focuses on two types of information: library records, and FERPA-protected "education records."

For library records, there is an overlap of legal concerns—an overlap that was thoroughly discussed in the 5/6/19 answer the member cites.  In that reply, we established that depending on how a school/school library is set up, parent/guardian access to this information might be allowed--but it’s a question that should never be left to chance (it should always be answered by a school’s FERPA and library privileges policies).

To that answer, and considering the spirit of the times, I'd simply add: any librarian out there, operating in elementary and secondary education, should be lauded when they raise privacy concerns.  Librarians should work with IT departments and procurement professionals to ensure data management and automation enable the separately governed access to a student's library records.  Even when access is legally allowed by a system, it is still good to emphasize the privacy of library records.

Here are several examples of how this can be done:

  • Including privacy considerations in “Requests for Proposals” (RFP’s) and quotes for automation and other data management software that will hold library or student records;
  • Training both library and IT staff to keep the division of different types of records with different access parameters at top of mind (“Remember, library records aren’t just protected by FERPA and ED 2-d”);
  • Ensuring that release and parental permission forms distinguish between and properly govern access to different types of records;
  • When making quick changes based on pandemic exigencies,[1] ensuring at least one person is tasked with assessing if the implementation conforms with applicable institutional ethics, policies, and privacy regulations.
  • Using deliberate awareness tools, such as a pop-up window that appears prior to enabling access to library files, saying "Student library records are confidential under state law.  Only properly authorized parties should view these records," is a good way to distinguish access to library information from other education records.[2]

For any educator reading this and thinking “Uh-oh,” if the horse is out of the barn, it is never too late to adopt some retroactive corrections.  When parental access is as plenary as the member describes, if there is a confirmed issue (such as access to one student’s enrollment records leading to access to all students’ enrollment records[3]) working with IT to address the specific utility hosting that information, and how it can be further locked down, is the only solution.

There will be times when addressing an issue like the ones raised by the member is simply not within the authority of the person concerned.  A concerned librarian or educator might even find themselves rebuffed when they try to ring the alarm! When that happens, it is time to kick it upstairs.  Each school should have a FERPA officer, and at least one senior administrator whose role is associated with enforcing a code of ethics or policies on privacy.  Concerns of this type are all appropriate to direct to such an administrator.

No one engineers a FERPA or privacy violation on purpose, but unwitting violations can happen when the learning environment has to change fast.  Being alert and ready to identify and correct concerns as soon as they emerge is critical.  Thanks for a solid question that shows how it's done.



[1] “Pandemic Exigencies” would be a good name for a heavy metal band.

[2] As discussed in that 5/6/19 answer, who "properly authorized parties" are can vary from school to school.

[3] This is indeed a possible violation.  FERPA §99.12 states "(a) If the education records of a student contain information on more than one student, the parent or eligible student may inspect and review or be informed of only the specific information about that student."

Tags: COVID-19, Privacy, School Libraries, Google, Students

Topic: Student photos on school library cards - 11/06/2020
Is it legal to print student photos with their names on their school library cards for circulation...
Posted: Friday, November 6, 2020 Permalink


Is it legal to print student photos with their names on their school library cards for circulation use?


I didn't realize it in first grade, but a school library[1] is one of the first places a person experiences "the right to privacy" unmediated by a parent or guardian.

Think about it.  You go to the library and get to pick out whatever you want.  You check out books, and no one can tell you what to pick.  And aside from the person checking you out, no one has to see your selection; your records are private.

In the present day, this means that kids whose faces might be all over Facebook[2], who are attending school via computer, and who "turn off their screen," when they don't want people peeking into their home life during remote learning, still have a right to confidentiality when it comes to the library in their school. And one of the biggest symbols of that student-library relationship is their library card.

So, with all that hanging in the balance, what are the legal considerations of putting student pictures on school library cards?

As often happens in the highly regulated worlds of education, privacy, and information, the answer is: "It depends."

In this case, the factors "it depends" on are numerous; rather than itemize them, I'll summarize them with a few pointed questions:

Factor 1: What else is "on" the library card?

Depending what other information is on the library card, combining a student’s picture with it could increase the likelihood of a violation of FERPA[3], Ed 2-d, or school policy.[4]  For instance, if the card is used for not only swipe access, but access to grades, disciplinary records, and library records, also including a picture ID on it makes it sensitive, indeed.

Factor 2:  Who "owns" the library card?

Some schools, by policy, give out student identification cards, but use a school or district-wide policy to confirm that the card is simply "on loan" to the student (and must be returned at certain events, like suspension or expulsion).  Other institutions issue a card, and it becomes the student's property; this means that the card is more under that student’s control.[5]

While there is no requirement to do one way over the other, the school and library should confirm the ownership of the card in a policy, as this can impact the decision to mark the card with picture ID, as well as who has control over the card in the future.

Factor 3:  Why does the picture need to be on the library card?

Is the school so large that in order to ensure it provides library services to the right student, the card must have a photo ID?  Is it a security measure, perhaps to deter theft (of library cards, and therefore collection assets)?  Do students need to "swipe" into the library, with the library positioned to monitor that they are letting in a student who isn't supposed to be in class?  Or is the library card doing double duty as the student's general student ID?  Whatever the reason, it should be understood and clearly based in policy.  And if the reason has to do more with security at that school than the operations of the library, it is better that the function be performed by the student ID, not the library card.[6]

Factor 4:  Who will have the right or ability to view the library card?

If the library card is only required to be viewed by library staff, the inclusion of the photo is consistent with FERPA's and CPLR 4509's different but equally applicable privacy requirements.  But if a security guard, teacher(s), bus driver, or others all have to see the library card for different reasons (this relates to question number 3), or could use the card to access the student's library records, that raises the possibility of concerns.

Factor 5:  Is there a "stealth" reason for the use of the photo and name?

For some students, if they do not have documentation such as a birth certificate or social security card, a library card with a picture ID might be the most official "documentation" they have.  If a library or school is intending that their cards perform this ancillary function, this should be done with the awareness that third parties relying on the identification function still need permission for the school or library to comment on the content of the card (for students under 18, this means a waiver by parents or guardians).  However, that same student (or their parents/guardians) can choose to share their confidential education records or library records however they wish.

Okay, that's a lot of "factors," but what is the answer?

Having dragged you through all that, I will answer the member's very simple question:  Is it legal to print student photos with their names on their school library cards for circulation use?

The answer is "Yes."

But!  If the library card will be used for anything more than "circulation use" within the library, it is wise to assess precisely what the card will be used for, root that purpose in well-developed policy that considers the above factors, and evaluate if the picture—which in this case, will be a FERPA-protected education record[7]—is needed at all.  The more the card is used for functions beyond the needs of the library, the more those functions should be achieved by a separate student ID, or in the alternative, schools should make sure that library information[8] is separate and isolated from other education records accessed by or listed on the card.

Thank you for an important question.


[1] It is important to note that a "public school library" is different than a public library, or an association library, or a college library.... but ALL are subject to CPLR 4509, the law making library records private.  And while they are different, a public school library, like the college library, is subject to FERPA.

[2] I used to be such a stickler about not posting any pictures of my kids on FB.  But the loving posts of other family members eventually wore me down.  Sorry, kids, I really tried.

[3] Photos of students maintained by their institutions, like an ID photo, are confidential education records under FERPA.  https://studentprivacy.ed.gov/faq/faqs-photos-and-videos-under-ferpa

[4] For instance, if the library card is also an all-purpose student ID that also functions as a key card or has lunch money on it, a policy should clearly separate those functions and there must be a clear protocol for voiding access when the card is reported lost.

[5] Just because the school owns the physical object doesn't mean they own the rights to the student's image.

[6] This is because, as written more thoroughly in Ask a Lawyer https://www.wnylrc.org/ask-the-lawyer/raqs/100, school library records are subject to both FERPA and 4509 rules of privacy.  Combining education record with library records can make it difficult to tease out the different ways the materials may need to be handled. 

[7] See footnote 3.  Yes, this is a footnote to send you to a footnote.

[8] Either in hard copy, on the card, or via digital access.


Tags: CPLR 4509, FERPA, Library Card Policy, Library Cards, Privacy, School Libraries

Topic: Pomp & Circumstance public domain use - 5/27/2020
The song “Pomp & Circumstance” is in the public domain. Is it permissi...
Posted: Wednesday, May 27, 2020 Permalink


The song “Pomp & Circumstance” is in the public domain.

Is it permissible for students to play this music while being recorded and for the district to stream it live as well as distribute a link to the recording later?


Not only can the students play, record, and stream “Pomp & Circumstance,” but they can also create an original musical based on it, rap over it, score an original movie with it, and in short: do anything they want with it.[1]

While anyone graduating in 2020 deserves this kind of red-carpet legal treatment, not only can the students do it, but everyone else can, too.  That is the beauty of a work being in “the public domain.”[2]

Thanks, and may all your virtual ceremonies be joyous.

[1] That said, any publisher that has created and distributed its own version of “Pomp and Circumstance” with a specific arrangement, illustrations, instructions, etc. may own the copyright to that particular text, and it shouldn’t be duplicated via hard copy or scanning.  In a similar vein, any publisher that has issued a specific recording may own the rights to that specific recording, and that should not be streamed or used without permission, either.  But the composition of “Pomp and Circumstance” is in the public domain, so generating a student-created version of it is fine, and if the district is the one recording it, they (and the performers) own the copyright (see Copyright Office Circular 56)!

[2] “In the public domain” means “no longer protected by copyright.”  Edward Elgar, composer of “Pomp & Circumstance,” died in 1934, so even under the most rigorous scheme of ownership, the copyright to P&C has expired.


Tags: Emergency Response, Online Programming, Public Domain, Streaming, School Libraries

Topic: Ed Law 2-d Compliance and Vendor Products - 5/21/2020
Many districts have had COVID-19 access for SORA Ebooks. I am not sure if it is ED Law 2-d complia...
Posted: Thursday, May 21, 2020 Permalink


Many districts have had COVID-19 access for SORA Ebooks. I am not sure if it is ED Law 2-d compliant. We do not want to support or suggest products to our membership that do not meet that compliance. Can you let us know? Thank you!


New York school libraries[1] operate in a complex web of regulations governing student privacy.  Laws such as FERPA, CPLR 4509, and “ED 2-d” all restrict what can be done (and can’t be done) with library records related to students.

At “Ask the Lawyer,” we’ve spent a fair amount of time on FERPA[2] and CLPLR 4509[3], so if you need some background on those, check the footnotes for this sentence.

That said, I have never written an “Ask the Lawyer” on ED 2-d, the new law protects “personally identifiable information” (“PII”)” held by a school district.  I’ll weave the relevant parts of the law into this answer.

And I have never written about (or used) SORA.  Since SORA is at the heart of this question, here is a little background on that:

SORA is a service provided by Rakuten/Overdrive.  In its own words, it provides “Millions of ebooks and audiobooks for your students. Thousands of publishers. Comes loaded with hundreds of premium titles at no cost. Infinite reading possibilities on practically any device.”[4]  Participating school districts enable student access to SORA through their own log-in points (the mechanics of which vary from school to school).

How does the service work?  As one reviewer put it[5]: “SORA can be downloaded for free by all students and teachers. If their school or district is an OverDrive partner, they can then use SORA to access their school's digital collection and also connect with the local public library's digital collection.”[6]

And finally, it is worth noting that SORA has a very cute logo: a puffy-silver astronaut, soaring wide-eyed into an eye-relaxing sky of silver-blue.  The astronaut is a combination of a Pokémon, Sailor Moon, and Big Hero Six.[7]  He is ready to read, and all set to escort your students to a universe of reading, too!  The logo is so cute, I don’t know how the member could think this company could do any wrong.

But savvy librarians are not distracted by cute logos.  And in this case, our savvy librarian-member asks: is use of SORA by a district compliant with the privacy protections of New York State Education Law 2-d?

We’ll start this analysis with a term defined by the law: “third party contractor,” which ED 2-d defines as:

 … any person or entity, other than an educational agency, that receives student data or teacher or principal data from an educational agency pursuant to a contract or other written agreement for purposes of providing services to such educational agency, including but not limited to data management or storage services, conducting studies for or on behalf of such educational agency, or audit or evaluation of publicly funded programs.

If SORA (or another service), meets this definition, then the district/school using it must implement the requirements of Ed 2-d, which are in the regulations found here:


I would set the full requirements out in this answer, but they are lengthy, and the regulations are about as plainly worded as can be.

In addition, for a library at a specific school in New York, there is a more institution-specific way to find these requirements.  To comply with Ed 2-d, every school district must have their own “District Privacy Officer” (“DPO”)[8] and that DPO must ensure that their institution develops and publishes a document called the “Parents Bill of Rights for Data Privacy and Security.”[9]

The parents’ “Bill of Rights” must list the district/school’s obligations vis-à-vis third-party contractors, including precise requirements for the protection of student information accessed by a specific contractor.  In other words, for each “third party contractor” (like, potentially, SORA), a district/school must publish the unique “supplemental” contract terms they’ve created to ensure the service meets Ed 2-d requirements. 

Readers who want to see the Ed 2-d criteria of their own particular district or school should be able to find it by searching for that district’s “Bill of Rights.”[10]  For any district using Overdrive and/or SORA, the “Bill of Rights” will either contain supplemental terms applicable to SORA, or they will have determined that their use of SORA does not disclose any PII.

So here is the question at the heart of the member’s question: does use of SORA, as arranged by a district, disclose PII to Overdrive?  While each district needs to make that determination on its own, in my opinion, any third party contractor that students must log into using a school-issued ID, after which the student will access content that supplements their school library’s collection (and be able annotate and leave notes about[11]), has a high likelihood of collecting PII.   

But as I say, it will be up to the district’s DPO to make the call.  If that call is: “Heck, yeah, they’ll be getting PII,” the district will then need to follow the law and regulations[12] to ensure the use complies. This means verifying that the contract has the right Ed 2-d requirements, and supplementing its “Bill of Rights” by disclosing the precise requirements the contract imposes on the contractor.  But if that call is: “We checked it out, and nope, no PII heading out the door here,” then nothing further is needed (insofar as ED 2-d is concerned).

While it may seem like I am punting on this answer (“Go see your DPO!”[13]) I can say that the SORA Privacy Policy[14], as published on May 20, 2020, does contain the elements that are consistent with the requirements of ED 2-d.  As but one example, Overdrive has a process for correcting records, which provides:

If you are a teacher or administrator at an educational institution using the school Services, please email privacy@overdrive.com to request the review, correction, and/or removal of a student’s Personal Information, and we will facilitate your access to and correction of such Personal Information promptly upon your request.

The ability to “challenge the records” of a contractor is a requirement of Ed 2-d.[15]  This suggests to me that Overdrive knows SORA will be gathering protected information, and the service is ready to enter into contracts that give the required assurances.  But only a look at the school’s contract for SORA, and its precise definition of PII, can ensure that.

The bottom line?  No matter what the published “Privacy Policy” of SORA says, there is no way to fully confirm a school library’s use of SORA complies with Ed 2-d law and regulations until the district’s designated DPO[16]:

1) Assesses what information will be accessed by or transferred to Rakutan/Overdrive as a result of their district contracting for SORA;

2) Determines if that information is PII as defined by Ed 2-d[17];

3) If it is PII, ensures the contract complies with Ed2-d; and

4)  Takes the steps to publish the “Bill of Rights” supplement as required.[18]

In other words: in Ed 2-d compliance, there should be no guesswork.  By working with the school’s DPO, the guesswork should be entirely removed.

Thanks for a great question!

[1] Not to be confused with New York’s “school district public libraries,” which are chartered libraries operating separately from their associated district.

[6] If you want to read some harsh, some glowing, and some occasionally amusing reviews, check out the SORA review content here: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.overdrive.mobile.android.sora&hl=en_US  I particularly enjoyed the brief but scathing review by a person who thought the service was supposed to be a game.

[7] I am not one myself, but I have anime fans in the family.  It rubs off.

[8] Per Regulation 121.8(a), “Each educational agency shall designate a Data Protection Officer to be responsible for the implementation of the policies and procedures required in Education Law §2-d and this Part, and to serve as the point of contact for data security and privacy for the educational agency.”  That’s the “DPO.”

[9] No, that is not a typo in “parents.”  The law left out either possessive apostrophe (“parent’s” or, for the plural possessive “parents’”).  Grammar matters, NY Assembly…grammar matters.

[10] I tried this on several different districts/schools across the state; a few institutions that shall remain nameless seem to have flunked, but admittedly, I didn’t look much harder than a cursory google search—which worked for many of the other institutions searched.

[11] Yes, I watched the SORA demo and paid attention to the additional features, which includes highlighting content and typing in comments.  I guess it beats writing in a book, which, to my husband’s great chagrin, I have been known to do (only to my own books).

[13] This is also critical because the definition of PII may vary slightly from institution from institution.  This is because student PII is based on the definition of “education records” in FERPA, which does allow some variance in “directory information” and other nuances this footnote is too small to cover.

[15] Regulation 121.3(c)(4)

[16] Or designee, of course.

[17]Personally Identifiable Information, as applied to student data, means personally identifiable information as defined in section 99.3 of Title 34 of the Code of 3 Federal Regulations implementing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, 20 U.S.C 1232g, and as applied to teacher and principal data, means personally identifiable information as such term is defined in Education Law §3012-c (10).”

[18] I realize this answer may give DPO’s out there extra work.  I am afraid I can’t apologize, since vigilance about privacy is a beautiful thing.  And hey—job security!

Tags: Emergency Response, School Libraries, Ed Law 2-d, Overdrive, SORA

Topic: School Closures and Teachers Pay Teachers - 3/26/2020
With the recent closing of schools I and my membership have been asked a great deal about Teachers...
Posted: Thursday, March 26, 2020 Permalink


With the recent closing of schools I and my membership have been asked a great deal about Teachers Pay Teachers. Is it responsible for teachers and districts to provide students with materials purchased through this service?


[NOTE: This answer is part of our ongoing response to institutions moving to online instruction as part of the world’s response to COVID-19.  For additional Q&A on that, search “COVID-19” in the Ask the Lawyer search utility.]

“Teachers Pay Teachers” (“TPT”) is an interesting service that allows teachers to license (sell rights to) others who need customized lesson plans and educational material.[1]

The member’s question relates to the TPT license, which governs what individuals and organizations can do with the content.

If the member’s question is asking: does the TPT license allow us to print and distribute the materials in hard copy for packets sent out by the District?  The answer is generally: yes.

If the member’s question is asking: does the TPT license allow us to distribute the materials electronically using e-mail or a website or a Learning Management System? The answer is generally: it depends.

I spent some time on TPT’s website reviewing their “Terms of Service”[2] and I believe teachers and organizations will need to examine the license for each separate purchase to confirm that electronic distribution is allowed.

Why? TPT’s “Terms of Service” largely allow for the creation of hard copies,[3] but their default conditions bar online distribution.  HOWEVER, TPT also allows the teachers supplying the content to loosen those default restrictions[4] (including allowing distribution on the web[5], e-mail, etc.)…so while one lesson purchased from TPT might not allow a web or e-mail distribution, another might. 

This can change not only from author to author, but content to content, so it is important to read the fine print.[6]

I would add: these are early days in the pandemic response.  As of March 26, 2020, TPT did not have any expressly Covid-19 policies on its website.  Nevertheless, like other online and tech providers, they may realize their hour has come, and take action. 

What will that action be?  I can’t say; a crisis brings out the best and the worst in businesses.  Some businesses will try and simply profit from the current situation; others will dig deep, conclude we are all in this together….and try to find at least middle ground. 

Looking at their Terms, Teachers Pay Teachers has made commitments to individual content providers it cannot easily change on a dime.  But remember, TPT empowers its individual content providers to set their own terms—so long as those terms are more liberal that the TPT baseline.  So keep your eyes on those product-specific, unique terms of use.  I imagine many teachers will feel compassion for the teachers and students impacts by this public health emergency, and liberalize their restrictions.

Thank you for this important question.

USING LICENSED CONTENT TIP: If you or your institution conclude that TPT or another license does give you permission for electronic distribution, it is a good idea to take a screen shot of that license and save it (just e-mail it to yourself in a place where you know you’ll have it for 3 years after you’re done use the content).  Online content providers can change the terms they post, without warning—and you want to be able to show that on the day you made the call to share the content electronically, the licensor allowed you to do so.


[1] Because some educational institutions own the rights to teacher-generated materials, and some do not, the Teachers Pay Teachers model is a fascinating study in copyright issues—but a global pandemic is not the time to muse over that.

[3] The Terms of Service allow you to: “Print and make copies of downloadable Resources as necessary for Personal Use. Copies may be made and provided to your students, classroom aides, and substitute teachers as necessary. Copies may also be made for students’ parents, classroom observers, supervisors, or school administrators for review purposes only. Hard goods and video resources may not be copied, shared, or otherwise reproduced.” [emphasis added]

[4] But not further tighten them.  Like I said, a really interesting model.

[5] For instance, one license I looked at, for a chemistry class, said: “These resources may not be uploaded to the internet in any form (including classroom websites, personal web sites, Weebly sites, network sites) unless the site is password protected and can only be accessed by the students of the licensed teacher.”  In other words: yes, you can distribute them electronically, if you use a restricted system!

[6] The diversity of author-specific permissions I saw on TPT was really interesting. Some folks just want credit.  Others want you to not send the content, but drive people to their own personal listings (so their analytics show the hits).  I bet some, in the coming days, will even change their permissions to respond to the pandemic with compassion.

Tags: COVID-19, Emergency Response, Licensing, School Libraries, Teachers Pay Teachers, Employment

Topic: Music Accompaniment - 1/16/2020
Can a music accompaniment part be recorded ahead of time for a performance as long as the school o...
Posted: Thursday, January 16, 2020 Permalink


Can a music accompaniment part be recorded ahead of time for a performance as long as the school or library has a copy of the sheet music? Can a few modifications be added to the accompaniment as long as the heart of the work is preserved? Can this recording be shared among schools and libraries as long as each organization has a copy of the sheet music with performance rights?


This question came in from a school system, and it triggered a lot of memories for me.

My junior high school music teacher was a very nice man.  From deep within mid-1980's Central New York, he tried to cobble together an orchestra from an array of students whose skills and practice habits ranged from "Julliard-bound," to "who is torturing that cat in the third violin chair?"

Back in 1986 (when I was 13), I saw this guy as "old."  Because of the way he tirelessly started the music over (and over) until the brass section[1] entered at the right bar of "Star Wars", I also saw him as a font of endless tolerance.

Now that I am older, my memory portrays my former teacher as a pretty young guy (I think he was in his early 30's).  And by now I have worked with enough educators to know that his tireless tolerance of our incompetence was passion.

So, this question has stirred a feeling of nostalgic gratitude.  Because of that,[2] I want to give this member an answer that is really solid, helpful, and clear.  But as they say in the construction biz when people ask for a job that is quick, quality, and cheap: I can give you a combination of any two, but not all three.

Here is the part of the answer that is solid and clear: Making a recording of a copyright-protected composition, unless the recorder has the permission of the copyright owner, or the recording falls under an exception, is copyright infringement…even for educational purposes.

Is there helpful and solid authority on that?  Yes. Circular 21, the long-standing guidance on the relevant copyright laws,[3] makes it clear that for educators, only the following recording of musical compositions is allowed under "fair use":

A single copy of recordings of performances by students may be made for valuation or rehearsal purposes and may be retained by the educational institution or individual teacher.


A single copy of a sound recording (such as a tape, disc, or cassette) of copyrighted music may be made from sound recordings owned by an educational institution or an individual teacher for the purpose of constructing aural exercises or examinations and may be retained by the educational institution or individual teacher. (This pertains only to the copyright of the music itself and not to any copyright which may exist in the sound recording.)

So, at first blush, the answer to the member's first question (and thus, all the following questions) is: NO.

Now, the core guidance in Circular 21 is OLD.[4]  It pre-dates streaming, it pre-dates file-sharing, and depending on what start date you give the web, it pre-dates the Internet.  But insofar as case law and legal commentary is concerned, it abides.[5]

So, while I have to answer a resounding NO to the question just as it is asked, I can offer a few helpful and clear solutions.

First, it never hurts to ask.  Depending on the copyright holder, you may be able to get a "limited license" for the very thing you want to do.  Some owners might even be charmed.  Others, of course, will just refer you to their manager.  You never know until you try.  Just make sure you get it in writing.

Second, while the Circular 21 guidance quoted above gives clear examples of what fair use permits, on page 7 of Circular 21, just before listing those guidelines, it states "There may be instances in which copying which does not fall within the guidelines stated below may nonetheless be permitted under the criteria of fair use."

So, if a version has been recorded for performance as part of a clever mash-up, for purposes of commentary and criticism, or another use that might meet fair uses' four factors, this approach is worth considering.  Sadly, since that is a case-by-case analysis, I can't say what precisely when that is allowed!  An education institution should perform such an analysis using its fair use form.[6]

Third--and I can't believe I am suggesting this--it may be that a combination of different licensing can arrange this precise permission for you.

We'll call this the "Two-Step Shuffle" solution.  It is meant to be helpful, and it is solid, but I am concerned it might not be too clear.  But let's give it a go.

NOTE: to use the "Two-Step Shuffle" solution, your institution MUST have a public performance license from a licensor like ASCAP or BMI.  So, if your school doesn't have one, just stop reading, right now.  But if you do…

Step one: see if the song you want to record is licensed for "covers" on a publicly accessible "host site" like YouTube.[7]  If the host site[8] has the license, you can record the accompaniment as a "cover," and put it on the host site.

Step two:  With your "cover" recorded, you can then play it from YouTube at any premises that has a license for public performance (this is why you need that license from ASACP or BMI…which is also what covers playing music at a high school dance, music over the loudspeaker during halftime, etc.).

Of course, this being an Internet solution, the "Two-Step Shuffle" solution could disappear at any moment!  But this being the Internet, something else will take its place.

Now, in suggesting a school to make use of a commercial video hosting service (like YouTube), I would like to take a moment to discuss those two important legal concepts: "Coulda," and "Shoulda."

Just because a school can upload content to a site like YouTube, and get a license for a cover, doesn't mean it should.  After all, when using a service like YouTube, an institution agrees with these terms:

By providing Content to the Service, you grant to YouTube a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicensable and transferable license to use that Content (including to reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works, display and perform it) in connection with the Service and YouTube’s (and its successors' and Affiliates') business, including for the purpose of promoting and redistributing part or all of the Service.

In other words, you're feeding the beast; you're commodifying the content you've chosen to share.  If it's student work, there are privacy and further intellectual property concerns (students own their copyrights, after all).  None of these are things an educator should take lightly.

That said, if approached with the right balance of attention to legal details and commitment to artistic excellence, the "Two-Step Shuffle" can also show future artists and performers how to respect copyright law and engage in self-promotion (which seems to be a critical skill  nowadays).  So "woulda, coulda, shoulda?"  If you undertake the "Two-Step Shuffle" solution, do it with an "ethics buddy" (preferably an administrator who has your back).

And of course, a "Two-Step Shuffle" solution can only be used if you can answer these questions in the affirmative, and you preserve the documents from which you derive your answers:

  1. Do you have express permission from the host site to make and post the recording on the host site?
    1. If "yes," keep a copy of that permission.
  2. Do you have express permission to perform the recording at the premises?[9]
    1. If "yes", keep a copy of that permission, too.

That second part pertains to any other school or place that wants to publicly use your recording, as well.

So, there you have it.  Was this solid and/or helpful and/or clear?  In keeping with my Junior High memories, I give myself a "B."

I do wish this answer was a little less like trying to get the brass to come in at the right bar of "Star Wars," but copyright, fair use, and licensing take time and attention to detail to get right.

That said, with enough passion to fuel the effort, I am confident you'll hit the right note.

[1] That was me.  I played trumpet.  And had braces. NOT a good combo.

[2] And because I have high standards.

[3] Circular 21, "Reproduction of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians," which has been in use since my days playing trumpet, and arguably, could use some updating.  You can find it here: https://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ21.pdf

[4] How old? It was first contained in a joint letter written by representatives of the Music Publishers’ Association of the United States, Inc., the National Music Publishers’ Association, Inc., the Music Teachers National Association, the Music Educators National Conference, the National Association of Schools of Music, and the "Ad Hoc Committee on Copyright Law Revision" on April 30, 1976.  Of course, if I tell my younger sister that something from 1976 is "old," I'll catch hell, but fortunately, she teaches religious education, not music.

[5] A scenario such as the one depicted by the member doesn't even get any slack from educators' other great copyright reprieve: section 110.  While 110 does allow a variety of exceptions for musical performances, it doesn't extend its tolerance to recording.

[6] Something no not-for-profit educational institution should be without, since it can help your institution limit damages under Section 504 of the Copyright Act.

[7] As of January 13, 2020, YouTube maintains a list of licensed songs you can record and upload at https://www.youtube.com/music_policies?ar=1578920053089&nv=1.  And, also as of this January 13, 2020, YouTube (unlike Netflix or HULU) enables businesses to use their services (rather than restricting them for "personal" and "home" use).

[8] Insofar as I know, only YouTube does this.  But I need to get out more, and of course, this type of thing evolves quickly in cyberspace.

[9] This is different than permission to perform the musical composition!

Tags: Copyright, Fair Use, Music, Circular 21, Online Programming, School Libraries

Topic: Decoupaging Book Covers - 12/30/2019
I would like to decorate a cart for use in a free books initiative I am planning for our school. O...
Posted: Monday, December 30, 2019 Permalink


I would like to decorate a cart for use in a free books initiative I am planning for our school. Our art club is interested and willing to paint and design it. I understand that we can't have them paint covers from books but we'd like to print out book covers and then decoupage them onto parts of the cart. Would that be acceptable? We want to promote the books while respecting copyright! I've printed out book covers to promote books in the past for special events but am careful to not put them online. They are one copy for a limited amount of time. Is this different?


A tricked-out, decoupaged book cart[1] sounds awesome (especially if it comes with free books).  A commitment to honoring copyright is awesome, too.  And it is entirely possible to do both.


In the spirit of the educational environment that spawned this question, here is an "Assignment" to teach the students about copyright while designing a book cart that celebrates the works it will distribute:

Part 1.  Pick at least five[2] books with covers or illustrations that are OUT of copyright this year.  For extra credit, look up what year of publication this would be on Cornell's Public Domain Guide[3] (hint: in 2019, this would be anything published before 1924).  Make sure you're working from the date the art was published, not when the text was first published![4]  Copy the covers and decoupage to the cart as needed.

This is the "Public Domain" solution.

Part 2.  Pick at least five books with covers or illustrations that are IN copyright.  Generate your own version of the illustrations with some key details changed: maybe the setting is now your town/city, or the characters look like students and teachers at the school.  Make sure your changes say something about the school or the place where you live, as well as the book.  Write a paragraph about why you made the changes and creative choices you did.  Do not sell your work, and resist posting it online.  Just apply decoupage and let the cart wheel around the school, enlightening and educating people.

This is the "Fair Use," solution.[5]

Part 3.  Pick at least five books related to an assignment for a class that will be offered as free books.  Work with the librarian to obtain a licensed copy of the covers you picked from a service,[6] and make sure that as you decoupage the covers, you are within the terms of what is allowed by the license.[7]

This is the "110 Solution."[8]

My grading rubric for this three-part assignment is based on: verifying the publication dates for part one; the thoughtfulness of the paragraph for part two; and the clear application of the license for part 3. 

Ability to demonstrate all three means the cart gets an "A."[9]

Now, this "assignment" encourages maximum use of the legal avenues available for such a project.  Because of that, it is a tad complicated.  But as the member suggests there is a simpler solution: licensing.

The one problem with solely relying on licensed material for a project like this is that you have to very, very careful when you read the license.  Some licenses cover only copies made a specific way.  Others require attribution. Still others say the use must be "non-commercial,"--a term that is always up for debate (academic publishers, for instance, would consider use by a school "commercial," since schools are their main source of commerce).  And finally, licensors also often reserve the right to change the "terms of use" without warning. 

So, if the project depends on a license, make sure you read the terms carefully, print a copy of the license just as it appears when you download the pictures for the project, and plan to make sure the use of the cart stays within the terms of the license.

And with that, whether you decide to go for the copyright trifecta created by the assignment (public domain, fair use, 110), or simply use a license: cart on!


[1] One of my favorite devices in the world is the book cart.  We use them at my law office, where attorneys and paralegals have color-coded carts to tell them apart.

[2] The numbers aren't as important as the ratio, here. 

[3] https://copyright.cornell.edu/publicdomain

[4] For instance, a version of Tom Sawyer that came out in 1980 with new illustrations would have the text in the public domain, but the illustrations--including the cover--would be protected by copyright.

[5] Based on 17 U.S.C. 107: https://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap1.html#107

[6]  Like the one mentioned by the member.

[7] For instance, decoupaging and adding the art to the cart could be considered creating a "derivative work," so make sure that use is not barred by the license.

[8] Based on 17 U.S.C. 110(a), which allows the "display" of ONE graphic work by a not-for-profit, accredited school for purposes of face-to-face instructions (so long as that copy was properly obtained). 

[9] If anyone uses this assignment, please let me know, and please send a picture (which we will NOT put on the internet without your permission). 


Tags: Copyright, Crafting, Book Covers, School Libraries

Topic: Copyright and school bulletin boards - 12/20/2019
Teachers at our school like to use pictures from movies to decorate their doors.  What rules ...
Posted: Friday, December 20, 2019 Permalink


Teachers at our school like to use pictures from movies to decorate their doors.  What rules apply to this?


At "Ask the Lawyer," we are frequently amazed at the diversity of the copyright questions we get.  When we started the service, we thought we'd often refer people back to answers that had already been covered.

But librarians always find a way to switch things up!

What are the new variables this time?

"Doors" and "images from movies."

We'll start with "images from movies."

Under the Copyright Act, the owner of the copyright controls the right to display still images from movies.[1]  So the member is right to flag this as a possible concern.

But we can potentially rest easy on that point, because educators have some special rights under the Copyright Act--if the material was legally obtained, and if  the material is used as part of the curriculum--and "displaying" images from motion pictures is one of them. 

Or, as Congress puts it in Section 110(a) the Copyright Act:

[P]erformance or display of [one legally obtained] work by instructors or pupils in the course of face-to-face teaching activities of a nonprofit educational institution, in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction[is an exception to infringement].[2]

So, under 110, here is the analysis to answer the member's question:

  1. Is the decoration part of "teaching activities?"
  1. Did the teacher obtain the copy lawfully? 

If the answer to both is "yes," then the answer is: decorate the heck out of that door.

Having said that, I appreciate that the two factors set out above are not always easy to answer.  Frustratingly, there is no one-size-fits-all definition of either "teaching activities" or "lawful copies."  That said, using some grown-up versions of famous characters from my childhood, here are some examples of the "wrong" and the "right" way.

The wrong way to use 110

Teacher Mr. Goofus[3] does a Google image search for "Elsa," captures a bunch of screenshots from "Frozen," prints out color copies.  He puts them on the outside of the classroom door, together with a sign saying "Let it go, only a few weeks until Winter Break!"

The right way to use 110

Teacher Mr. Gallant uses the copy of the DVD owned by the school library to create a screenshot of the scene where Elsa is discovered to have magical powers.  He puts it on the inside of the classroom door, along with a sign saying: "This month we'll be reading the Scarlett Letter and discussing depictions of overcoming social alienation in popular culture."[4]

What do these examples show?  The more integrated with the course work, and the more legitimate the copy, the more the teacher (and the school) can claim protection under 110. (NOTE: Mr. Gallant could claim protection under "Fair Use."[5])

Which brings me back to the other variable: the door.  For a 110(a) analysis, what side of the door the movie picture is on is (potentially) relevant, since if the content is on the outside of the door, it's slightly harder to claim the material is part of "face-to-face teaching."  That said, if the link to an actual lesson plan is clearly perceptible (like in the "Gallant" example), I think it could work.

And there you have it. 

I have noticed this "door decoration" phenomenon when picking my kids up from school.  My poor children[6] never have a moment that is Harry Potter® or Elsa®-free.

But I get it, images from movies are a way to brighten the environment and get kids engaged.  Fortunately for the teachers of this world, if you follow its formula, Section 110(a) makes it okay.  This is good, since after taking a quick look, we could not find a non-paywall source for such images.[7]

But make sure the use is part of the curriculum!  Thanks for a thoughtful question.

[3] Before committing to this example, I checked to see if 1) "Goofus and Gallant" was still "a thing;" and 2) if modern norms of child psychology had decided they were based on any harmful tropes.  Wow, was a fun ten-minute tangent.  As the children's librarians out there already no doubt know, G&G is very much still "a thing."  Further, while a ton of fascinating stuff has been written about their antics (showcased in over a billion issues of "Highlights") they are still alive and illustrating extremes of youthful behavior--having outlived such contemporaries as lead paint, seatbeltless cars, and jarts.  Go, G&G.

[4] This is an appropriate assignment for fourth grade, right?

[5] Which the "Goofus" example would not qualify for.

[6] Am I just jealous?  I tried to remember what was decorating the doors of my elementary school in New Hartford, NY, circa 1982.  I am pretty sure the only decor was the sad remains of the people in "Oregon Trail."  Speaking of harmful tropes…

[7] If you know of one, please alert me at info@stephaniecoleadams.com.


Tags: Copyright, Movies, Section 110, Photocopies, School Libraries

Topic: Code of Ethics Conflict of Interest - 11/6/2019
What, if any, are the ramifications if a school district public library board of trustee member re...
Posted: Wednesday, November 6, 2019 Permalink


What, if any, are the ramifications if a school district public library board of trustee member refuses to sign the code of ethics and/or the conflict of interest/whistleblower policy?


I am sure there is a very interesting set of facts, personal convictions, and conversations behind the stark facts presented in this question (there always is).  But we’ll address just the stark facts.

Because a library’s Code of Ethics, Conflict of Interest Policy, and Whistleblower Policy[1] are rooted in different areas of the law, a refusal to sign these documents creates an array of ramifications. We’ll explore each type in turn.

But first, it’s important to establish certain base factors.

Base Factors

In New York, most libraries (unless they are part of a larger institutions like a college or museum) are not-for-profit corporations chartered by the New York Education Department’s Board of Regents.[2]  This means that, just like other not-for-profit corporations registered with the New York Department of State, libraries are subject to the Not-for-Profit Corporations Law (the “NFPCL”).[3]  This includes school district public libraries.

Without getting too technical, this means that all libraries in New York are governed in accordance with not only their charters and bylaws, but the applicable parts of the Education Law and the NFPCL, too.[4]

This governance structure impacts questions related to conflicts of interest, whistleblowing, and codes of ethics. With the basic features established, let’s look at the different type of policy in the member question.


Conflict of Interest Policy

Here is what the law says about a refusal to participate in the “Conflict of Interest” policy, as governed by the NFPCL:

The conflict of interest policy shall require that prior to the initial election of any director[5], and annually thereafter, such director shall complete, sign and submit to the secretary of the corporation or a designated compliance officer a written statement identifying, to the best of the director’s knowledge, any entity of which such director is an officer, director, trustee, member, owner (either as a sole proprietor or a partner), or employee and with which the corporation has a relationship, and any transaction in which the corporation is a participant and in which the director might have a conflicting interest.[6]

So, to give a stark answer to the member’s question, per the law, no person should actually be elected to serve as a trustee until the nominee’s Conflict of Interest statement (the “COI”) is completed and submitted.  In other words, if the COI is not turned in, that person should never initially be elected as a trustee (we’ll pick that back up in a few paragraphs when we discuss the election criteria for school district public library trustees).


Whistleblower Policy

A requirement to “sign” the Whistleblower Policy is a slightly different matter.  Unlike the law related to conflicts of interest, the law requiring any not-for-profit with over 20 employees (or revenue in excess of one million dollars) to have a Whistleblower Policy[7] does not come with a requirement for trustees to sign any document. 

Of course, a refusal to abide by the Whistleblower Policy (for instance, a trustee failing to keep a report confidential), could result in a violation of the law, and the libraries’ bylaws, as well.


Code of Ethics

Public school boards must have Codes of Ethics,[8] but libraries—even school district public libraries—do not. There is no requirement in the NFPCL, nor the Education Law, nor any applicable regulations, that a public library have such a code.

That said, to clearly express and enforce a library’s values, a Code of Ethics is often built into a library’s bylaws or adopted as a stand-alone policy of a library’s board.[9]   The bylaws, or policy itself, could also require that it be signed.  Once it is a requirement of the bylaws or policy, it does not have the force of law, but it can be enforced by the board.


Refusal to Sign

Which brings us to: whether it a requirement of law or policy, the refusal to sign of a board member must be addressed under the library’s charter, bylaws, and the NFPCPL. 

Under NFPCL §706, a board is empowered to remove a board member per the procedures in its bylaws.  Therefore, if a board determines that failure to sign the Code of Ethics or Whistleblower Policy is unacceptable, or that a failure to sign a Code of Ethics makes the library non-compliant with the law, then that board member can be removed, provided the remaining trustees are careful to follow the bylaw’s procedures for doing so. 

This can be a divisive issue, since I imagine someone could present a debatable reason for not signing a Code or other policy,[10] but since a Code of Ethics or mission statement is something every board member must support as part of their service to the library, the root cause of the refusal might be just as serious as the refusal, and in any event, must be resolved. And that is, except for one wrinkle, the lay of the land.


School District Public Library

At school district public libraries, board members are elected per the requirements of Education Law §260. 

§260, and by reference, §2018 of the Education Law, include very precise conditions for the nomination and election of a school district public library board member—none of which is a pre-vote signature on a COI, or a signed acceptance of a Whistleblower Policy or Code of Ethics.

Of course, per Public Officers Law §10, all school district public library trustees must take and file an oath of office “before he[11] shall be entitled to enter upon the discharge of any of his official duties.” This means, somewhere in the “pre-term” area after the election but before the newly elected trustee starts working, there is a zone where they can, based on a refusal to take the oath of office, not be qualified to start the term.[12]

The consequences of a refusal to sign a COI are a little less well-defined, but it is clear that if a board tolerates a refusal, the organization is not in compliance with the NFPCL.  The refusal to sign a Whistleblower Policy is not controlled by law, but the failure to actually follow it is.  And the failure of a board member to sign a Code of Ethics is a matter to be decided by the rest of the governing board.


What Happens Next?

The refusal to sign and participate in critical board policy cannot simply be ignored.  It has to be addressed, and the rest of the board has to follow the rules as they address it.

Barring any obvious provision in the bylaws or wording in a particular policy, what does the board use as a playbook for dealing with this type of challenge?  Upon confirming the factors leading to the refusal, a board’s executive committee,[13] consulting with the library’s lawyer and working from copies of the charter and bylaws, must consider the facts, could develop a solution.  The solution could be a revision of a policy to address a particular concern, or, in the case of an incomplete COI, removal of the member.  In no event should this be done without the input of an attorney, since the stakes are high, and feelings may be strong.

Thank you for an important question.

[1] In their quest to impose order on the universe, lawyers often use capitalization to express when a “thing” is a “Thing.”  For purposes of this answer, the various policies the member references are each Things, and so while certain style guides may disapprove, the capitals are there to stay!

[2] The way corporations are created in New York is a type of legal conjuring.  For more information on this particular type of conjuring, check out the New York State Education Department’s Division of Library Development Guide at http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/libdev/charter/index.html, and Education Law §255.

[3] This application of the NFPCL is set forth in NY Education Law §216-a, which is a fun read on a rainy day. 

[4] Intricate arrangements like this are why people like me have jobs!

[5] In the law, “director,” “board member” or “trustee member” all refer to elected members of the board of trustees.

[6] This is from NFPCL §715-a (c).  This language, or something substantially similar, should be in every library’s Conflict of Interest Policy.

[7] NFPCL §715-b.

[8] §806 Section 1(a) of NY’s General Municipal Law.

[9] Boards of museums and other cultural agencies chartered by the Regents are required to have a code of ethics; see 8 NYCRR § 3.30.

[10] I cannot imagine a good reason for not signing a COI, unless the policy was badly worded, there is confusion about the policy, or the director really does believe they should be allowed to vote for their wife’s company to install the new library floor.

[11] It’s 2019.  We really need to work on the pronouns in our legislation.

[12] As but one example of this, see 2001 Op Comm Ed No. 14,710

[13] Or the trusteeship committee, or the board, working as a committee of the whole…whatever group will ensure thorough assessment and the preparation for, if needed, a removal vote.

Tags: Ethics, School Libraries, Board of Trustees, Policy

Topic: Music Lending Libraries and Copyright - 11/6/2019
A local county Music Educators Association has approached my BOCES and has asked if we would house...
Posted: Wednesday, November 6, 2019 Permalink


A local county Music Educators Association has approached my BOCES and has asked if we would house & manage their music library. Apparently, the music library was at one point housed at this BOCES, but was then moved to one of the participating districts when BOCES said they would charge a fee for the service. It is my understanding that multiple school districts buy, share, make copies and physically loan choral and band sheet music to each other. One of the music teachers has indicated that the library consists of 581 choir pieces and that each piece has 100-200 copies (and that’s not counting the band music).

I’m concerned that the number of copies the teachers have made of each choir piece is a copyright infringement and also am unsure if it’s even legitimate to loan and share the original pieces among multiple districts for the purpose of shared usage and I’m hoping you can help point me in the right direction in terms of how a music lending library could work (legally!) in terms of copyright, licensing and fair use.


Yes, I can point you in the right direction…but I can’t take credit for drawing the map!

Since it pertains to a local “Music Educators Association,” this question brought me on a pleasant journey into the chartered territory of the “New York State School Music Association,” a/k/a “NYSSMA.”

NYSSMA is the organization for school music educators in New York.  Its mission is to “advance music education across New York State for its membership and students in member school programs.” 

Like libraries, schools, and BOCES, NYSSMA is chartered by the Regents of the State of New York.  To enable meaningful participation on a local level, NYSSMA is broken into 15 zones. 

In the member’s question, it sounds like a local zone of NYSSMA is asking a local BOCES for assistance.

Since both entities are chartered by the Regents, this makes sense; it’s like your cousin asking if she can store tools in your garage.  Except in this case…you aren’t sure where your cousin got the tools.  Or who might ask to borrow them.

As the member points out, this uncertainly could be cause for concern.  This is particularly true because under copyright law, a license is required to not only duplicate music, but to perform it, so an entity providing unauthorized copies could experience more than one type of liability.

Fortunately, there are many helpful resources to address this, and the basics are set out in plain language on the page of NYSMMA’s national affiliate, the “National Association for Music Educators (“NAfME”).

On their helpful page, found at https://nafme.org/my-classroom/copyright/, NAfME outlines the basics of managing a music library for NYSSMA members. 

As stated by NAfME:

“Unlike most educators, music educators must face copyright compliance frequently throughout their career. Although the thought of copyright can be intimidating and a complex subject, NAfME has a multitude of resources that can help you better understand U.S. copyright law.”

How does an institution considering providing this service get started? Any institution considering housing a music library (or script library, or an architectural plans library, or anything that will be licensed and/or loaned under particular conditions) for another entity needs to do these three things:

            1.  Research and assess the full scope of what will be required;

            2.  When the full scope is known, develop a budget, policies, job descriptions and a contract (or term sheet) to support what is needed; and

            3.  Finalize the arrangements in a way that mitigates risk,[1] and makes the service effective and sustainable.

Since this type of analysis can reveal the complexities of what may seem like a simple service, it is not surprising to hear that at one point a fee was required for it!

As the resources on the NAfME site show, housing and managing a music library is potentially a very detailed endeavor.  And while technology has made some aspects of the tasks involved easier, any institution providing such a service will need to make it a part of someone’s job.

So, after reviewing the basics on the NAfME site, it would be good to have a forward-thinking and specific discussion that addresses the following:

  • Whose property are the copies to be housed and managed?
  • Are there copies of the original purchase agreements and licenses?
  • How is the collection to be searched?
  • How is the music loaned out?
  • Who tracks copies on loan?
  • What is the approach for unreturned copies?
  • Who arranges for performance licenses, and who keeps copies of permission granted?
  • How are new works accessioned?
  • How are copies de-accessioned?
  • How are damaged copies replaced?
  • What is the value of the collection?
  • What is the cost of the service?

In addressing these questions, it is important to note that NYSSMA has access to numerous copyright-related resources as a member of NAfME.  For instance, as noted on the NAfME “copyright” page: “Through an agreement with ASCAP and BMI, NAfME (or MEA) sponsored groups are granted performance rights of music managed by these organizations. (This covers only performances sponsored by NAfME or federated state associations of NAfME.) However, if members wish to record their students’ performance of any work, permission must be obtained through Harry Fox Agency.” 

So awareness of NYSSMA’s rights, as parties explore how they could assist with housing and managing a NYSSMA-owned collection, would be critical.  Solid and well-coordinated compliance with license terms would also be important.

I know this is just the overture to a full answer, but thank you for a well-composed question.[2]



[1] For instance, if the collection is valuable, insurance coverage should increase.

[2] In researching this answer, I also enjoyed reading the discussion of the qualifications of a music librarian, found on the Music Library Association’s web site at https://www.musiclibraryassoc.org/page/MusicLibrarianship.  I don’t know if a person with music librarian skills is needed for a service like this (likely not), but only the analysis I set out above could confirm that.

Tags: Copyright, Music, School Libraries, Fair Use

Topic: Showing Films or Streaming Movies under Community Education Program at a School District - 10/31/2019
Our school district offers a Community Education program that offers courses on a broad range of t...
Posted: Thursday, October 31, 2019 Permalink


Our school district offers a Community Education program that offers courses on a broad range of topics to the community. In some of these Community Education classes the instructor may want to show a DVD movie or stream a movie that is related to the course. Would this violate fair use and copyright? How would this also change the outcome if our school district has a subscription with SWANK Movie Licensing?


Flying at 10,000 feet, the answer to the first question is: if the class in in person (not online), AND the institution is non-profit, AND the only viewers are the instructor and the students enrolled in the class, AND the viewing is in the classroom or academic facilities, AND the content is part of the curriculum, AND the copy was legally obtained…then the showing is allowed under Section 110(1) of the Copyright Act (“110”).[1]

The answer to the second question is: if use of the precise copy is controlled by a SWANK license, then despite authorization under 110, the showing must be consistent with the terms of that license.  For that matter, the use of any other content service for viewing movies (Netflix, YouTube, etc.) must also conform to the terms of the service’s license.

Swooping a bit lower to the ground (but not into the weeds): exercising rights under 110 is why it is important that: 1) class syllabi show the relationship of materials to the goals of a course, 2) institutions maintain lists of enrolled students, and 3) institutions have designated spaces for instructional activities.

This is why reading the fine print on content licenses is important, since contractual obligations can over-ride rights otherwise granted by law.

How does a school librarian help instructors stay within the bounds of the law or the license?  A good rule for educational institutions is to have clear and pro-active policies and outreach[2] for instructors who need to show movies.  In this world where education gets hit with new laws, regulations, and policies every year, while clear policies are important, a simple message to instructors: “Need to show a movie in class?  Ask us how!” is a great place to start.


[1] Here is the full text of sub-section (1) of 17 U.S. Code Section 110: [Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106, the following are not infringements of copyright:] “performance or display of a work by instructors or pupils in the course of face-to-face teaching activities of a nonprofit educational institution, in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction, unless, in the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, the performance, or the display of individual images, is given by means of a copy that was not lawfully made under this title, and that the person responsible for the performance knew or had reason to believe was not lawfully made….”

[2] What’s a sign that your institution’s policy is sufficiently “clear and pro-active?”  Instructors not using their own personal Netflix accounts is Exhibit #1.


Tags: Copyright, Fair Use, Movies, School Libraries, Swank Movie Licensing, Licensing, Streaming

Topic: Online Story Time and Copyright - 3/11/2019
[The member provided a link to a story about an elementary school principal putting on her pajamas...
Posted: Monday, March 11, 2019 Permalink


[The member provided a link to a story about an elementary school principal putting on her pajamas and using “Facebook Live” to read her scholars a weekly bedtime story.]

I always love ideas like this but am afraid to promote them because I have heard that this is a copyright violation. Is it? If it is, what are our options to do something like it in a legal and ethical way? Thank you!


Reading to kids is one of the best thing we can do for them.  If the law gets in the way of that, there is something wrong with the law!

That said, honoring the rights of authors and illustrators who create stories to charm and educate is one of the best ways we can make sure there is always something new to read. 

And it’s the law.  

The member’s concern is justified; copyright law rewards creativity by empowering rights holders to control how and when their work is duplicated--in this case, “performed”[1].  A reading on “Facebook Live”—no matter how many cute, be-jammied scholars it enriches—could infringe those rights[2]

But as the member also suggests, respecting copyright does not need to be the end of the line; there are many ways this type of real-time, remote reading can take place.

Below, please find my “Top 5 Ways for a Teacher to Remotely Read a Bedtime Story to Lots of Kids in Different Places Without Fear of Committing Copyright Infringement.”

1.  When choosing a book to read, select a work in the “public domain”…meaning, the book is no longer protected by copyright.  As of 2019, this means works published before 1924 (in the U.S.) and other select situations.[3]

For example, the “Brothers Grimm” who were writing in the 1800’s, are not suing anymore (nor are their heirs).  Just make sure the publisher hasn’t found a new way to assert the copyright of the copy you read from (a new version, new illustrations and layout, a slightly less sadistic version of the original, etc).

2.  Write your own story.

This one is my favorite.  Who knows?  You might discover you’re the next Eric Carle!

3.  Hold a writing contest amongst the students that includes parental permission to read the entries/winners online. 

This could also bolster interest in the event, since kids could hear their own work read, and see their own pictures online.

4.  Explore making the reading exempt under the TEACH Act (section 110 (2) of the Copyright Act).

The TEACH Act exempts certain digital transmissions of work from the classroom environment.  It has several highly specific requirements, so educators should connect with their institution’s attorney and IT department to see if this option can work for them.  While not the solution for every “good night” reading, with some planning, it could be a way to make online reading sessions a part of a routine curriculum.

And finally…

5.  Explore getting permission from the rights holder!  While not all authors will be in a position to agree, many will say “Yes, of course!” when asked if a teacher can livestream a reading of their book (of course, if you also want to show their book as well as read it, you will need permission from the illustrator, too). 

Reaching out to an author or publisher takes time, but many children’s authors are very accessible.  My high school friend, Grace Lin, is a well-known children’s book author (and recent winner of a Caldecott Honor for “A Big Mooncake for Little Star”).  I reached out to Grace on Facebook to get her take on this issue (and got her permission to share her thoughts). 

For Grace, whose work contains lovely and carefully rendered illustrations, such a request would be about intent and quality.  She said if the reading was more about the not-for-profit reader and audience connecting over her story, and not the video dwelling on the pages (effectively copying them), she would consider giving permission.  On the flip side, Grace felt that serious duplication (with the video dwelling on the pages) could be an unwelcome duplication. 

Like many children’s book authors, Grace is accessible via her website, www.gracelin.com, and I encourage would be night-time-story-readers to reach out to her!

Thank you for this great question.  Copyright is an important law to honor in the educational environment.  But finding ways—lots of ways—to give children an early and deep love of books is an even greater service to the world.  It’s one of the reasons librarians are so important.


[1] There are six distinct rights given by a copyright: reproduction, , derivative works, distribution, performance, display, and (for sound recordings) digital transmission.  You can see the full list here:  https://codes.findlaw.com/us/title-17-copyrights/17-usc-sect-106.html

[2] Small note: the reason books can be read aloud in class (from k—grad school) without fear of infringement is because of an exception in Section 110 (1) of the Copyright Act.  My solution in number “5,” above, is based on this exception.

[3] How can you tell if a work is in the public domain?  One of the great treasures of the universe, a chart for determining public domain availability, is maintained by Cornell University at:  https://copyright.cornell.edu/publicdomain.


Tags: Copyright, Social Media, Streaming, Story time, Online Programming, School Libraries, Section 110, TEACH Act

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