CD Cover Art

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  • Hi - I am responsible for maintaining the Audio CD collection at a large public library. A very common problem we have is that CDs are often returned without their cover inserts and/or rear liner text. Is it legal to reproduce images of CD text for titles that we own? And if so, what would the be the extent of our ability to do this? It has been a fairly common practice to photocopy the text from another copy of the CD if possible, and I've been told that this is acceptable since we actually own both copies involved.

    Many times, we don't own another copy of the title, and some staff members have suggested using downloaded images to create a replacement cover. I can't seem to find a definitive answer in regard to the legality of this. It also brings up the issue of the source of the image. There are the standard cover art images that are used on websites by countless retailers and reviewers. In addition, there are many websites that contain high-quality scans of CD covers and liners, which are pretty obviously intended for use in pirated copies. It would seem that these images would be crossing some sort of legal line, but on the other hand, now allows users to upload images of any part of a CD which can be viewed by prospective buyers.

    As our collection is all out on the open shelves, it's important that the CDs be easily identifiable to patrons who are browsing, and also aesthetically pleasing. The only other alternative to downloading a cover image seems to be using a plain-text insert with basic information, sized to fit the CD case.

    I realize I've brought up a lot of different questions here, but any feedback on the subject is greatly appreciated. Thank you.
  • Good questions. I expect that other people on the Copyright Advisory
    Network Team will chime in (please do!).

    I am not a lawyer; this is not legal advice. This is how I'd look at the situation.

    There are multiple ways you can look at this, including using the Section 108 exemption for libraries and archives, and fair use. I'll go over those two below.

    There are copyright exemptions for libraries (Section 108). For copying legitimately acquired materials that are damaged, deteriorating, lost, or stolen, the library can make up to three copies of the work provided they meet the Section 108 criteria. The criteria include that the copies are not made for direct or indirect commercial advantage, the library is open to the public or researchers, the copies include a notice of copyright, and the library has not found an unused replacement copy on the market available for a fair price. (There are also additional restrictions for digital works, which isn't the case here so I'll pass over that for now).

    The last criterion is probably the one most likely to affect you in this case. If the work in question meets these criteria, I'd feel safe with the 108 exemption.

    However, I would more likely rely on fair use, particularly if the CD is still available for sale (new). Here's how I would look at the situation. First, look at the four factors.

    Nature of the use: You're a large public library, so you are likely a non-profit. I would guess that this favors your uses.

    Amount of work copied: Looking at the CD as a whole, you are copying a small portion, so I would guess this favors your use. Someone might disagree here and look at the inserts as their own complete, so in that case this would weigh against your use, but there are arguments both ways.

    Nature of the work: If art, creative; if text describing the work less creative (but still enough for protection). Generally I would guess this weighs against you in either case.

    Effect on the market: In this situation, I'd really look at this one. You are unlikely to have a big effect on the market. You've described what you would do if the use is infringing (the plain-text insert). I would say that this favors you as well.

    Unlike 108, fair use does not necessitate that you have a legitimate copy (although it helps!). However, the fact that you did have a legitimate copy to begin with will help your fair use argument. You have already purchased the CD. You contributed to the market. You're not going to buy another CD just for the insert. You're a public institution with a public goal. I would say fair use favors you in this case.

    That's my take on the situation- YMMV. I hope others take the chance to add their two cents. ^_^

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