RAQs: Recently Asked Questions

Topic: Sharing Articles - 3/29/2017
I encountered a situation in which a patron wanted to share an article that I sent to [a not-for-p...
Posted: Wednesday, March 29, 2017 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

I encountered a situation in which a patron wanted to share an article that I sent to [a not-for-profit organization’s] educational portal. As it happened, she had a very specific intended audience…which I thought fell within the "Fair Use" doctrine as, in addition to the information being educational, it was to be shared with [only] a small group.

However, it made me wonder how to approach a situation in which intellectual property was to be shared on such an electronic educational forum for the entire [not-for-profit] staff to sign off on having read. Would sharing with all [not-for-profit] staff for educational purposes be acceptable? 

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

This is a great question, as it occupies the crossroads of the specific exceptions for libraries and archives in the copyright code, the elements of fair use, and an essential aspect of a library’s mission: dissemination of information. So, I am a bit sorry to say the answer is most likely: NO.

That said, there is a “YES” along the way, and with careful analysis, the two answers can be kept separate.

How is that?  First, you have to see the query as not one question, but two.
 

  •  FIRST QUESTION:  Is a library allowed to provide a copy of an article to a patron? 
     
     ANSWER:  YES. With careful attention to the factors that apply only to libraries and archives (Section 108 of the  Copyright Code), a copy of the article can be provided.
     
  •  SECOND QUESTION: Is it a fair use for the patron to then distribute a digital copy via an access-restricted portal?

    ANSWER:  NO.  Even when the user is a not-for-profit trying to stretch budget dollars and educate its workforce, when a patron is essentially trying to provide broad access but circumvent a licensing fee,* the elements of fair use are not met.

 

LIBRARY COPIES V. FAIR USE

Part of this analysis depends on appreciating the subtle differences between Section 108 (exceptions for libraries and archives), and Section 107 (fair use).

Here is the formula for a library to provide an authorized copy of an article under Section 108:

  • The copy must become the property of the user;
  • The library or archives has had no notice that the copy would be used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research; and
  •  The library or archives displays a warning of copyright as required by law.

Here are the factors used to analyze fair use under Section 107:

  • The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  • The nature of the copyrighted work;
  • The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  • The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Note the difference between Section 108’s simpler, formulaic elements (providing a bright-line rule for providing an authorized library copy), versus the complex, inter-connected fair use factors (which most will agree provide anything but a bright line). Commentary on the Copyright Code shows this is a deliberate difference, and the effect is a positive one for libraries: whether or not subsequent patron duplication of a “Section 108 copy” meets the elements of fair use, a section 108 copy is authorized so long as Section 108’s much simpler elements are met.

A library’s provision of an authorized copy does NOT depend on the patron’s subsequent fair use.  Section 108’s provisions stand alone, and on much easier-to-analyze ground.  However, absolutely key to Section 108 is the library’s lack of notice regarding a patron’s intent to use the copy for anything more than private study/scholarship.  

If, during the consultation, the patron discloses intent to use the copy to create their own mass distribution, the use will not qualify under Section 108, and infringement could be found. Just as critically, providing a copy once the library was aware of a further intent to copy could also run afoul of the fourth commitment in the Code of Ethics of the American Library Association: “We respect intellectual property rights and advocate balance between the interests of information users and rights holders.”

Because of this “notice factor,” Section 108 might be easier in theory than it is in practice. Patrons seeking information often use librarians as co-strategists in whatever project they are working on.**  During such quests, a librarian’s awareness of the full extent of patron needs can be helpful, so there is often a discussion of not only what is sought, but why. This type of discussion may lead to better service, but if it leads to notice of a patron’s intent to put an article on an intranet or portal, the librarian can be put in a legally and ethically awkward position. 

So…you are right to be cautious! Thank you for a great question.

*If the article isn’t commercially available, or the article is being parodied or provided as an example of “what not to do”--basically anything other than its simple face value as an educational tool--the fair use analysis would be different. But we’d need the precise factors from the patron.

**There is one other complication worth mentioning on this FAQ forum. For academic or other libraries operating within a larger institution, if the requesting party is simply another part of your organization, Section 108 is more difficult to credibly apply, so caution is needed. 

Tags: Copyright, Fair Use

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