RAQs: Recently Asked Questions

Topic: Fair Use and the Ten Percent Rule - 1/8/2019
A teacher would like to reproduce an entire article from a published magazine. They state that bec...
Posted: Tuesday, January 8, 2019 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

A teacher would like to reproduce an entire article from a published magazine. They state that because it is only 10% of the entire magazine, it falls under fair use. My interpretation has been that it is 10% of the article, since the article is a published work on its own.

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

The “Ten Percent Rule” has been kicking around the world of education for decades!  This is a good chance to bust this myth, since as we’ll review, it is not a reliable stand-alone formula for “Fair Use” (copying without needing permission). 

But we’ll start with another area of the law.  This question involves not only Fair Use, but Section 108 of the Copyright Act, which applies specifically to libraries.

Under Section 108(d), the teacher (or any library user) may make one copy of:

no more than one article or other contribution to a copyrighted collection or periodical issue…if

(1) the copy becomes the property of the user, and the library or archives has had no notice that the copy or phonorecord would be used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research; and

(2) the library or archives displays prominently, at the place where orders are accepted, and includes on its order form, a warning of copyright in accordance with requirements that the Register of Copyrights shall prescribe by regulation.

So in this scenario, if the other above-listed criteria are met, the teacher can make one copy of one hundred percent of the article.

But after that one Section 108 copy is made, unless the school obtains a license to duplicate the article, the only subsequent copies can be those authorized by Section 107 (“Fair Use”).  This question asks: does copying an article from a larger publication meet Section 107’s criteria?

The answer is “it depends” (in law, that is often the answer!).  But what does it depends on?  If only the answer was a simple “Ten Percent Rule” (whether ten percent of the article itself, or ten percent of an original compilation)…. but it isn’t, even in the educational environment.  Instead, the overall circumstances, when viewed through the lens of the four Fair Use “factors,” are what govern this answer.

There are many excellent model policies out there on how to apply Fair Use in academia[1], an every academic institution should have their own.  So I will not use this “Ask the Lawyer,” response to duplicate what’s already out there, but I will take this opportunity to emphasize:  duplication based solely on the rationale that what is being copied is only 10% of a larger article or publication is not determinative of Fair Use, even in an educational, not-for-profit setting. 

A string of recent cases, delving deeply into how the four “Fair Use” factors are applied when making excerpts available in academia, shows things just aren’t that simple.  Commonly called “Cambridge I, II, III, and IV,” these cases involve claims by Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, and Sage Publications against  Georgia State University, and showcase the most in-depth, frustrating wrangles about Fair Use in academia ever to be seen.

The most recent ruling in this saga, Cambridge University Press v. Albert (“Cambridge IV”), was issued on October 19, 2018.  If you feel like reading the clear, cogent writing of a federal judge obviously frustrated by another federal judge’s inability to figure out Fair Use, check it out.

As re-emphasized in Cambridge IV, the third factor of Fair Use is the “amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.”  But the opinion goes on to clarify that the amount used (ten percent or otherwise) is not a factor to be considered in isolation.  Rather, all four factors are to be applied in a way that reinforces the purpose of the Copyright law: promoting the progress of scholarship and creativity[2].   And in academic publishing, the opinion makes clear, the impact on the market  for an article can be just as determinative as that unlicensed copies’ not-for-profit context or academic purpose.

So how can the member’s issue be resolved?  When confronted with a scenario like the one submitted by the member, a librarian should not feel the need to argue with a teacher.  Rather, the librarian should rely on their institution’s attorney-vetted Fair Use policy and form to enable the teach conduct and document their own assessment of Fair Use.

Why do this?  First, a good Fair Use policy and form will walk the teacher through the Fair Use analysis, saving the librarian time (and sanity!).   Second—but just an important—the creation of a written record documenting a good-faith determination of Fair Use will potentially help both the teacher and the institution by mitigating any damages for infringement.  And third, in education, getting these things right is a good example for students.

So once the teacher in this scenario makes their one 108 copy, provide them with a copy of the institution’s Fair Use policy and form.  If your institution doesn’t have a policy or form, this is a good time to get one, since these days, even municipal entities can be found liable for copyright infringement.



[1] I like the one here: https://copyright.cornell.edu/fairuse.  The careful reader will note that the form Cornell maintains does list 10% as a guideline for assessing Fair Use, but cites that factor as but one of many aspects to consider and document.

[2] Or as the Constitution calls them in Article I, Section 8, clause 8 “science and the useful arts.”

Tags: Fair Use, Copyright, Photocopies

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The WNYLRC's "Ask the Lawyer" service is available to members of the Western New York Library Resources Council. It is not legal representation of individual members.