Library Photocopying

The Copyright Act at 17 U.S.C. § 108 provides a set of rules regarding library reproductions. In general, a library or archive open to the public (or whose collection is available to specialized researchers other than those affiliated with the institution) will not be liable for copyright infringement based upon a library patron’s unsupervised use of reproducing equipment located on its premises, provided that the copying equipment displays a notice that the making of a copy may be subject to the copyright law. The notice must appear in a specific form, as shown below.


The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material. Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or other reproduction. One of these specified conditions is that the photocopy or reproduction is not to be “used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research.” If a user makes a request for, or later uses, a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in excess of “fair use,” that user may be liable for copyright infringement. This institution reserves the right to refuse to accept a copying order if, in its judgment, fulfillment of the order would involve violation of copyright law.

When patrons ask the library to copy text works, the warning notice must be printed within a box located prominently on the order form, either on the front side of the form or immediately adjacent to the space for the name and signature of the user. The library may make only one copy of such works per patron. Copying a complete work from the library collection is prohibited unless the work is not available at a “fair price.” This is generally the case when the work is out of print and used copies are not available at a reasonable price. If a work, located within the library’s collection, is available at a reasonable price, the library may reproduce one article or other contribution to a copyrighted collection or periodical issue, or a small part of any other copyrighted work, for example, a chapter from a book. This right to copy does not apply if the library is aware that the copying of a work (available at a fair price) is systematic. For example, if 30 different members of one class are requesting a copy of the same article, the library has reason to believe that the instructor is trying to avoid seeking permission for 30 copies.

The copying, whether performed by the library or whether unsupervised by the library patron, cannot be for a commercial advantage. This means that the library (or a copying service hired by the library) cannot profit from the copying. In addition, the copying for the patron must be done for purposes of private study, scholarship, or research.

If a library or educational institution makes a copy of a work for a patron, it must include the actual copyright notice from the material being copied, for example, “© 1953, Grove Press.” Under 17 U.S.C. § 108(a), if the material contains no copyright notice, the material should be stamped with the notice, “This material may be protected by copyright law (Title 17 U.S. Code).” In addition to limiting the library’s liability, the use of the warning notice will defeat an infringer’s defense that the copying was an “innocent infringement” and might even support an argument that the infringement was willful, thereby increasing the damages paid to the copyright owner.