RAQs: Recently Asked Questions

Topic: Does repurposing a book affect copyright? - 4/5/2019
Our library is always seeking ways to promote literacy, exercise, and park visits with community p...
Posted: Friday, April 5, 2019 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

Our library is always seeking ways to promote literacy, exercise, and park visits with community partners. One proposal we received was to take some books apart, laminate the separate pages, and mount them on display posts throughout a park, creating a moving, learning experience. 

I have a copyright concern. Can we “dismember” the books and laminate the pages and still respect the books’ copyright?

 

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

A “Path Through Learning!”  This sounds like a really cool idea. 

The member is right, though: to put this cool idea into effect as described, a library would need the permission of the copyright holder.

It’s hard to believe, but liability is just a rip and a lamination away.

Why is that? 

Although the “first sale” doctrine allows the purchaser of a book to resell and display the book—and even to make creative book arrangements in display cases and front windows--it is not a defense to cutting images from the book and re-mounting or laminating them. 

This is because courts have found that re-mounting or laminating covers or pages torn from a magazine or book creates a “derivative work” that is an infringement of copyright. [1]

“Derivative works,” are works that incorporate, “recast, transform, or adapt” part or all of a “pre-existing work,” without meeting the element of a “fair use” defense, or transforming what they’ve borrowed to the point where the original can’t be discerned.

Of course, an essential element of a derivative work is the “pre-existing work…” meaning, the work in its recognizable and copyright-protected form.  If I pulped my comic book collection and made a piñata out of it, that would not be a derivative work[2].  But sequels, adaptations, companion materials, and, yes, laminations, can run afoul of this right held by a copyright holder.

How do sellers of mounted, and perhaps laminated baseball cards do what they do?  Since nothing has been ripped or separated, there is insufficient “transformation” to make it a derivative work.[3]

So where does that leave the “Path Through Learning” concept?  Although it would have an educational purpose, based on the case law I found, a copyright owner could have a viable claim for an unauthorized “derivative work” being used to illustrate the path.  Further, unless there was some intrinsic commentary or criticism of the works selected, a fair use defense would be weak to non-existent. So as proposed, it is risky indeed, and the member is right to be concerned.

The good news is that I have two solutions.

First, based on the case law, protecting (via lamination, display box, treasure chest, etc.) and displaying entire copies of the books, with the pages open to a certain spot, could be an allowable display.  Just make sure they aren’t being marked or altered.

Second (and probably best): ask for permission.  The “Path Through Learning”[4] is a charming idea. I bet many authors and publishers would be delighted to give permission.  After all, you’re promoting their book!  Simply reach out, describe the project, and ask the rights holder if you can create the separately laminated pages for it.  It can’t hurt to ask, and they might say yes.  Of course, when they do, get the permission confirmed in writing.

Thank you for this interesting question.

 



[1] Rosebud Entertainment, LLC v. Prof’l Laminating LLC, (U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Norther Division, 958 F. Supp. 2d 600 (magazines), and Mirage Editions, Inc. v. Albuquerque A.R.T. Co. (books).

[2] I winced just typing that!  I love my comic book collection.

[3] Allison v. Vintage Sports Plaques, 136 F. 3d 1443 (11th Circuit, 1998)

[4] I am sure the member has come up with a better name for this.

Tags: Copyright, First Sale Doctrine, Derivative Works, 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.