CD burning in libraries

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  • We all know that patrons take CD's out of our libraries and burn them to their computers or iPods, but I currently have a patron who has been setting up his laptop right in the A/V department, about 10 feet from the desk, and burning stack after stack of CD's all week long. I'm sure he's copied between 150 and 200 by now (of a 6,000+ collection), and aside from his actions being a little in-your-face questionable, I'm not sure I have any grounds to ask him to stop, or even checkout the items, first. He's using his own computer, so the liability is off the library and its own equipment, but something about it just seems so wrong. It could just be the blatant way in which he's sitting right in front of us doing it, but it does seem odd that we can watch this man copy our entire collection, theoretically, and not have a thing to say about it other than to inform him he's breaking copyright law. Any thoughts?
  • Hi, pthornell --

    Personally, I believe you DO have grounds for asking the patron to stop using your collection for what is undeniably illegal behavior, but this will come down ultimately to what policies are in place at your library. The specific situation may not be addressed in any of your existing policies, but I'm sure there must be something that generally prohibits illegal activity by patrons on library premises.

    The limitations on copyright for reproduction by libraries that are contained in sec. 108, Title 17 ( are instructive, even though they don't address this exact situation. Among other things, sec. 108 allows a library to furnish one copy of a portion of a copyrighted work (or even the entire work, under particular circumstances) to a patron, but the statute emphasizes in multiple ways that such copying cannot be used as an excuse to abuse copyright: libraries can't engage in "systematic reproduction," they can't have "any reason to believe the copy will be used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research," etc.

    Your case may be closer to what's referred to as "unsupervised" copying by patrons, since the library is providing its legally purchased copy of the work and the patron is copying it himself; unsupervised photocopying is addressed by the requirement in sec. 108 that libraries post copyright notices on all of the copying equipment it provides on premises. Again, this is not a perfect match to your situation, since the patron is using his own equipment, but the intent of sec. 108 is clearly to allow limited, isolated copying of library materials only--whether it's done by library staff or by a patron using library equipment. Not even the fair use limitation (sec. 107), which is broader and less defined than the sec. 108 limitation (or any of the other statutory limitations on copyright) would excuse what this patron is doing, and I have to believe that even the most expansive interpreter of fair use would agree that this patron is engaging in flagrant infringement.

    I'm sure the patron will object to what may seem to him a legal technicality; he may even tell you that he's just going to check out the recordings in the future and do the same kind of systematic copying at home, in which case you'll have an even tougher decision to make -- whether to allow him to continue to check out materials when you've been given a clear indication of his intent to break the law. But objecting when someone uses your library's materials and/or premises in violation of the law and then taking steps to prevent him from continuing to do so (in accordance with your local policies), is not a legal technicality, IMHO -- it's just common sense. Of course, librarians should not encroach on patron privacy to police how library materials and equipment are used, but that doesn't mean our professional ethics require us to provide materials and then turn a blind eye when the patron proudly volunteers his intent to knowingly break the law with them. I wouldn't be so quick to judge if there was even a possibility of a fair use argument, but that doesn't appear to be the case here, in my opinion.
  • I wouldn't have a problem asking the individual to stop, but going beyond that gets tricky IMHO. Librarians can't be the copyright police for a few reasons. First, we can't say with 100% certainty that a use is or is not a fair use, although we can be pretty sure in our opinions whether or not a use is fair. I don't think that librarians should generally put themselves in the position to be absolutely determining whether or not patron use is fair. That might give the librarian some liability problems, sets a difficult precedent, and there's always the potential that we're wrong. If the Section 108 signage is available, then the patron should be the person responsible for copyright infringement. For a seemingly blatant case like this, I'd certainly speak to the person and advise them that what they're doing might very well be illegal. Beyond that, I'm not as certain.
  • Your library should have a policy for things like this. Maybe first a warning and then a suspension of library privileges, or even disciplinary action. The library should not be a haven for wild pirating. We really lose credibility when we talk about the importance of balanced copyright law, yet knowingly allow infringing behavior by our users.

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