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Copyright Basics

Introduction to copyright protections, exceptions such as fair use, public domain, Creative Commons, and more.

Reproduction by Libraries

The issue most often faced by libraries and archives is when a copy can be made of a protected work. The 1976 Copyright Act added section 108 that included an exception for nonprofit libraries to make copies for certain purposes such as preservation, the replacement of works and for nonprofit research. Section 108 was expanded in 1998 to include subsection (h) under the Copyright Term Extension Act to allow libraries and archives “to reproduce, distribute, display, or perform” copies of works that are in the last 20 years of copyright protection for purposes of “preservation, scholarship and research” (17 U.S.C. §108 (h)(1)). No copies of audiovisual works can be made under section 108 “other than an audiovisual work dealing with news” (17 U.S.C. §108 (i)). Therefore, in most cases audiovisual archives must have the copyright to the footage or permission from the copyright. 

Libraries and archives have a history of arguing for fair use protections, as seen in the Supreme Court case Williams & Wilkins Co. v. United States (1973). In this case, librarians helped persuade the court to acknowledge fair use when photocopying copyrighted works for the purpose of research. The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the United States Court of Claims that “photocopying should be considered fair use under circumstances that the federal nonprofit institutions were devoted solely to advancement and dissemination of medical knowledge” (Williams & Wilkins Co. v. United States, 487 F 2d. 1345 (1973)). As a result, many libraries and archives were legally able to make copies for users so that patrons can obtain materials for educational purposes. In the time since the ruling, section 108 of the Copyright Act of 1976 further reinforced the ability for libraries to make copies.