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Copyright for Libraries: General Information

A resource to help librarians understand copyright issues.

Please note that ALA cannot give legal advice. If you need legal advice, you should contact an intellectual property attorney.

The Digital Age presents new challenges to fundamental copyright doctrines that are legal cornerstones of library services. Libraries are leaders in trying to maintain a balance of power between copyright holders and users, in keeping with the fundamental principles outlined in the Constitution and carefully crafted over the past 200 years. In this role, we closely follow both federal and state legislation and make our voices heard when our issues are moving. Libraries are perceived as a voice for the public good and our participation is often sought in "friend of the court" briefs in important intellectual property cases. Our involvement extends to the international copyright arena where we also follow the treaties to which the U.S. is a signatory and which could influence the development of copyright changes at home.

Copyright issues are among the most hotly contested issues in the legal and legislative world; billions of dollars are at stake. Legal principles and technological capabilities are constantly challenging each other and every outcome can directly affect the future of libraries.

Everyday copyright law affects the way libraries provide information to their users. The first sale doctrine enables libraries to lend books and other resources. Fair use allows for the use of copyrighted works for purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, scholarship, or research. Libraries are permitted to make reproductions of copyrighted works for preservation and replacement purposes. And under copyright law, libraries can aid in the transformation and reproduction of copyrighted works for users with disabilities. As libraries advocate for user rights and access to information, it's crucial to continue to address the emerging challenges posed at the intersection of technology, society, and law.

Additional Help on Copyright

For general information and guidance, you may contact Program Director Carrie Russell of the ALA Washington (DC) Office, at phone number 1-800-941-8478 or via e-mail to crussell@ala.org.

Many questions are answered on the United States Copyright Office website. For further assistance, you can contact the United States Copyright Office directly at phone number 202-707-5959 or 1-877-476-0778 (toll free) Monday through Friday, 8:30 am to 5:00 pm, Eastern Time.

Supplemental Copyright Resources

Electronic Resources Librarian

Rebecca Gerber's picture
Rebecca Gerber
Contact:
ALA Library
50 E. Huron St.
Chicago, IL 60611
800-545-2433 x3277