Saving .PDF files

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  • Our library catalogs some .PDF files that are available freely on the internet (mostly online documents produced by non-profit organizations, or from open access journals). While we link to the original .PDF in our catalog record, we have considered saving a copy of the .PDF on our server, for archival purposes in case the URL goes dead or the journal/organization disappears. Is this appropriate? In the past the articles had always been printed out, but we were hoping to save space/paper. Guidance?
  • Given the terms of use at most open access journals, which permit downloading, copying, and distribution of all the contents of the journal, I think it's probably fine for your library to download and store PDFs of open access articles for archival purposes. The documents produced by non-profit organizations are in murkier territory. My impulse is to say that a library is probably pretty safe collecting electronic publications that are made freely available online by the copyright holder, but I could also imagine an argument against it.

    What kind of volume are you dealing with? If it's just a few organizations, it might be worth asking for permission. I'd imagine many non-profits would be thrilled to know that a library is creating a stable archive of their publications.

    Anyone else want to weigh in?
  • I basically agree with your take, Molly, but would just put it slightly differently. Regardless of who provides access to the articles, I think that this depends upon whether or not there's a license agreement and what that agreement includes. If the agreement allows this type of use, well and good.

    If there isn't a license agreement, then this could be addressed under fair use (Section 107) OR under the provisions which allow digital archival copies (Section 108 (b)). Alas, neither of these cases are completely straightforward.

    In the former case, you would need to do a fair use analysis, which might vary from case to case (this would be true of paper copies as well). I can well imagine cases where paper or electronic copies might impact the copyright holder's ability to sell their own paper copies or to get advertizing revenue.

    In the latter case, it seems that there are three conditions that your library would need to meet to qualify for this:

    1. The library is open to researchers not affiliated with your institution, AND
    2. The digital copies are not allowed out of the library, AND
    3. The materials are considered to be part of your collection.

    The second item is frustrating in this internet age, but the last one is the one where I'm really not sure about the argument. I don't think of any cases addressing this. Does anyone else know? Absent a relevant case, I think this argument could go either way.

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