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Legal Issues

This online course is no longer being updated online. It's only available through the Canvas website for the current course offering. After completing this session, you'll be able to:

Begin by viewing the class presentation in Vimeo. Then, read each of the sections of this page for more detail.

Explore each of the following topics on this page:


copyrightCopyright is a complicated issue for librarians. Directly related to collection development, it's something all librarians should study carefully.

Because most librarians (including myself) aren't lawyers, most libraries have a lawyer that they contact or work with when complicated issues arise.

Copyright is protected nationally in the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 8), by statute, and by litigation. There are numerous areas covered, such as reproduction in whole or in any substantial part, publication, performance, adaptation, and display, such as images on screen or computer. A number of means for use of copyrighted materials have been developed that include acquiring permission, paying a fee for use, and fair use. Much of the fair use component (Section 107 of the Copyright Law) was changed as it relates to educational use in 2009 and other revisions appeared in 2011, so you would be advised to check your policies to be sure you are still in compliance.

Sources of information about copyright include the Copyright Office. This office provides a wealth of information including

To learn more, go to the Copyright and Intellectual Property Office at Ball State for many resources useful to educators and librarians.

Need more? Other sources of information about copyright include

try itRead!
U.S. Copyright Office. (2009). Reproduction of copyrighted works by educators and librarians. Washington, DC: Library of Congress.

try itRead!
U.S. Copyright Office. (2012). Copyright basics. Washington, DC: Library of Congress.

Google Books & Digitization

Many people are confused about the Google Books project and how they are able to provide digital content of books that appear to be under copyright restrictions. American publishers were upset and filed a lawsuit against Google. Recently, the Association of American Publishers and Google announced an agreement that will allow Google to continue to scan some works that are still under copyright; however, a group of authors have also filed suit. The litigation will continue.

A good way to keep up with this is to watch the Association of Research Libraries Copyright & Intellectual Property Policies website on the Google Book Search Library Project.

try itRead!
Helft, M. (2011, March 23). Federal judge rejects Google's negotiated deal to digitize books. New York Times.

HathiTrust is "a partnership of major research institutions and libraries working to ensure that the cultural record is preserved and accessible long into the future". A decision related to fair use by the HathiTrust was also handed down recently.

You can search for articles on this recent ruling related to HathiTrust, but here are a couple for your consideration:

A number of other notable court cases that deal with fair use have been decided. Many decisions have favored the publisher; however, the courts appear to be moving toward access as fair use. You can check out some of these cases in depth at the Case Law & Judicial Opinions page at Stanford Universities Libraries. It is important to pay attention to the direction of the courts to determine how the nebulous term "fair use" is currently being interpreted.

The Real World

Although the laws can be complicated, it's important that libraries keep up on the latest information.

Increasingly, students are involved in producing creative works and may ask you about copyright. Be sure to consider copyleft options for producing and sharing works. Learn more at Creative Commons.

You need to be aware of the copyright laws in order to prevent lawsuits at your library!


Bosman, J. (2011, March 15). Library e-books live longer, so publisher limits shelf life. New York Times.

Helft, M. (2011, March 23). Federal judge rejects Google's negotiated deal to digitize books. New York Times.

Portions of this page were adapted from Collection Development & Management by Irwin and Albee (2012).

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