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Copyright for Libraries: Special Topics

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.

Notice of Copyright Statement - to be placed near a copier

The library or archives will not be liable for copyright infringement when a patron makes copies using unsupervised reproducing equipment located on its premises, provided that the equipment displays a notice that the making of a copy may be subject to the copyright law. This statute is broadly written, using the term, “reproducing equipment” and can include library photocopiers, scanners, computers, 3D printers, and other reproducing equipment. Neither the statute nor the regulations give specific language for the notice.

The Reference and User Services Association (RUSA), a division of ALA, suggests the following language to be displayed on or near unsupervised reproducing equipment as required in subsection 108(f)(1):

Notice: The copyright law of the United States (Title 17 U.S. Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material. The person using this equipment is liable for any infringement.

Public Performance Rights

Preservation Copying

When can the library make a digital copy of an item? This is an extremely complicated question to answer. Whether you want to copy a single VHS to DVD, or scan an entire collection of unpublished diaries, this is a question librarians frequently must answer.

Making Digital Copies

Qualifying libraries and archives have many allowances under the copyright law for making copies of protected works for library users, for interlibrary loan, preservation and replacement. These are specified in Section 108 (Limitations on exclusive rights: Reproduction by libraries and archives) of the code. However, making digital copies of analog works or digital works is more restrictive.

What is permitted:

  • Works in the last 20 years of copyright protection may be digitized--either for the web or from an analog (e.g., VHS) to digital (e.g., DVD) reproduction--as long as the library has made a reasonable investigation to ensure that the works are not subject to normal commercial exploitation or available at a reasonable price, or that the copyright owner has not filed a notice with the Copyright Office (Section 108(h)(1-2).
  • If the library digitizes any protected work, that digital copy must remain in the library. Published works must not be commercially available at a reasonable price. Unpublished works may be copied only for preservation, security or deposit in another qualified library.
  • What is described above does not affect your Fair Use rights. In other words, Section 108 may not allow certain copying, but fair use might allow that same copying after a consideration of the four factors of fair use.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons is a not-for-profit organization that provides free tools that let authors, scientists, artists, and educators easily mark their creative work with the freedoms they want it to carry. You can use CC to change your copyright terms from "All Rights Reserved" to "Some Rights Reserved."


The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th edition defines the act of plagiarizing as: "To use and pass off (the ideas or writings of another) as one's own." or "To appropriate for use as one's own passages or ideas from (another). intr. To put forth as original to oneself the ideas or words of another."

Many articles, websites, blogs, and other resources about plagiarism can be found through a web search using the terms <preventing plagiarism>.

Google Book Settlement