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U.S. Copyright Office Guide on Common Copyright Issues for Librarians

Library Collections & Programs

This page contains resources relating to how librarians can use the copyright-protected works in their collections and provides guidance in understanding exceptions to copyright law specific to libraries and archives. The gallery below provides quick links to many of the resources included on this page.

Using Copyright-Protected Works

Before using a copyrighted work, evaluate if the use involves one of the exclusive rights of copyright holders per Title 17, Section 106: Exclusive rights in copyrighted works. These include the rights to make copies and derivative works, the right to distribute copies, and the rights to perform or display the work publicly. Copyright law includes specific limitations on those exclusive rights, described in sections 107 to 122. Some of the best-known limitations include Title 17, Section 107: Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair Use; and Title 17, Section 108: Limitations on exclusive rights: Reproduction by libraries and archives.

For more information, consult:

Understanding Section 108

Section 108 lets libraries and archives ("institutions") make and distribute copies of works in certain situations without seeking permission from the copyright holder. To take advantage of Section 108, institutions must meet several requirements: (1) copies may not be for direct or indirect commercial advantage,(2) the institution's collections must be open to the public or to unaffiliated researchers in a specialized field, and (3) all copies must include the copyright notice that appeared on the source work, or, in the absence of such a notice, a statement that the work may be protected by copyright.

Permissible Uses

If the above criteria are met, institutions may use section 108 for preservation, security, deposit in another institution (research use in another institution), replacement, access by users, or use of duplication equipment. Each type of use has specific conditions.

Preservation, Security, and Deposit in Other Institutions
Institutions may make three copies of an unpublished work in their collections. Copies in digital formats must stay on the institution's physical premises.

Institutions can make three copies of published works, and digital copies must remain on the institution's physical premises. Replacement copies can only be made if the copy being replaced is damaged, deteriorating, lost, stolen, or in an obsolete format. The copy may only be made if an institution determines, after a reasonable effort, that an unused copy cannot be purchased at a fair price.

Upon the Request of Users
The work being copied must be in the collection of the institution where the user makes the copy request or in the collection of another institution, and the institution must have no notice that the copy will be used for anything but private study, scholarship, or research, among other conditions. Institutions cannot make copies of musical works; pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works; or motion pictures or other audiovisual works. An institution can only make a copy of an entire (or substantial part of a) work if it determines, after a reasonable effort, that a copy cannot be obtained at a fair price. An institution cannot knowingly engage in related or concerted reproduction or distribution of the same materials. For copies of articles or small parts of larger works, "systematic" copyright or distribution is prohibited (this does not bar interlibrary loan arrangements that do not "substitute for a subscription to or purchase of" the work in question).

Use of Duplication Equipment

Institutions are immune from liability for patron use of unsupervised reproducing equipment located on the premise of the institution if the equipment has a notice warning that reproduction may subject patrons to liability.

Fair Use and Contracts

Section 108 does not affect fair use. Institutions may rely on fair use to the same extent as any other user of a copyright protected work. Additionally, Section 108 does not affect contractual provisions agreed to by an institution when obtaining a copy of a work. 

Additional Exception for Last Twenty Years of Copyright Term

Section 108 allows institutions an expanded exception for works that are in the last twenty years of their copyright term. For those works, institutions can copy, distribute, display, or perform in facsimile or digital form a copy or phonorecord of a work (or portions thereof) for purposes of preservation, scholarship, or research, provided that the work is neither obtainable at a reasonable price nor being commercially exploited. Note that all pre-1972 sound recordings are considered to be in the last twenty years of their term as of October 11, 2018, for purposes of this specific additional exception.