RAQs: Recently Asked Questions

Topic: Alternative, fair use solutions for when you can't host a virtual read-aloud - 7/14/2020
For the past two years, our library hosted a 24-hour read-aloud; where people camped on the front ...
Posted: Tuesday, July 14, 2020 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

For the past two years, our library hosted a 24-hour read-aloud; where people camped on the front lawn and took turns reading 6-7 books. Due to COVID, we can't hold this event in person this year. Our thought it that we could do it virtually - and instead of reading an entire book, we would ask readers to read the first chapter from one of their favorite books. They would film themselves reading (or we would film them) and then we would post the clip on our YouTube channel. One clip a day would be posted - for a total of 24 clips.

Our questions center around copyright infringement and fair use. Could we host such an event? Would this qualify under educational fair use guidelines?
Could we leave the videos up indefinitely -- or would it be better to have a specific time period and then they disappear?

Any guidance - even if it's a "don't do it!" would be helpful!

Thank you!

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

Since the onset of pandemic restrictions, "Ask the Lawyer" has written a lot on different variations of this topic.[1]

Since I am tired of being the party pooper on this issue,[2] I am offering up something new.  Here it is:

Don't do it...unless you make it something new.

What do I mean by "something new"?  I mean a use that is so clever, so additive, that even though it uses a copyright-protected work, it creates a work with independent meaning.

Examples of this "something new" are:

  • Extensive[3] "color commentary" combined with the reading.
  • Replacing the characters in the books with people in your town to make a witty commentary about town life.[4]
  • Combining the reading with a special talent, such as reading each sentence of a travel book while traveling to a different yoga position, or reading a baking scene in a book while making a cake. 
  • Humorous juxtaposition, like reading the first scene of Moby Dick[5] while fishing, or reading a book about puppies to your cat.[6]

Despite all the wishful writing out there, the cloud of the pandemic did not bring us the silver lining of automatic expansion of fair use.  That said, it hasn't diminished fair use.  So, if your library:

  • Isn't using the event as a fund-raiser;
  • Is using the event to educate and engage the public;
  • Requires readers to not use the entire work; and
  • Requires a transformative use, like the examples given above...

...[7] there is a strong chance your event can go on as (virtually) planned. [8]

Good luck and happy reading!

 



[2] The answer is "Don't do it, unless you have permission or the work is in the public domain."

[3] "Extensive" means incisive comments at least every paragraph.

[4] Since I don't want to help you avoid a copyright claim only to wind up with a defamation law suit, if you do this, avoid using books that take deep and honest looks at human nature (No William Faulkner, no Maya Angelou, and certainly no Zadie Smith).  Use sunny books that make the best of things!

 

[5] This is a bad example because Moby Dick is in the public domain.  Which reminds me: you can also try using books in the public domain (published before 1924).

[6] Puppies and a cat?! 50% chance to go viral on day 1. 

[7] Which just happen to line up with the four factors of fair use.

[8] Just in case this suggestion appeals to readers, here is some suggested event recruitment text, based on the member's question:

It's time for our annual 24 hour read-aloud!  Usually, we have people camped on the front lawn but due to our work this year to keep everyone healthy, we can't hold this event in person.  Instead, we will do it virtually.

Here are the details for this year's readers: instead of reading an entire book, please work with us to film you reading from the first chapter from one of your favorite books, along with comments or a special related activity by you!  The final product will help us celebrate reading AND the personalities in our town.  Be as creative as you like, but the added content has to be related somehow to the book.

 

Tags: Copyright, COVID-19, Emergency Response, Fair Use, Library Programming and Events, Online Programming

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