copying PDFs of state docs into catalog

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  • Our III catalog allows us to attach entire full text documents, including those in PDF format, directly into the catalog record for public retrieval.
    I know that US state docs, unlike federal, are copyrighted. However, I don't know anything about how fair use has been applied to state govt docs. If the state govt has made the doc freely available on their own web site (no registration or password or anything else like that), is it fair use for me to copy it to attach to a catalog record for it? (The catalog record would be for the electronic edition, as usually no print edition exists for these things.)
  • Could you just provide a link from your catalog record to the original state govt site?

    I would not assume that just because the state govt placed the documents on a freely accessible web site that they are not claiming copyright protection. Maybe they are and maybe they're not. Sometimes people put copyrighted materials on the web with no intention of letting others use the materials freely. (People need to be more explicit about their intentions when posting materials to the web.)

    Does the state govt site include any copyright notice information?

    If protected, I would link to the state site.
    If being placed in the public domain by the state and the state actually owns the copyright and therefore has the authority to make such an assertion, then I would copy the documents.

    If you do not know, then I would contact them and ask.
  • We've been making actual copies of local government documents for purposes of preservation. We serve them from our own web server, and provide access by Persistent URL through our web-based catalog.

    We haven't worried about copyright because, well, we were unaware that they would be covered by copyright I guess.

    We are a public library (a county department) so I imagine that other department's documents would be fair game. But we have docs from cities and quasi-governmental agencies as well (e.g. water authority).

    Should we cease this practice?
  • Please know that I am not providing you with legal advice, nor do I want anyone to get the impression that by offering my opinion, I am suggesting what you should do at your library.
    I hope that the network discussions eventually demonstrate the range of options that libraries must choose to consider when determining how to handle any copyright quandry.

    Now on to state government documents. I remember that state docs were always kind of troublesome for libraries because of their irregular publication schedules, the gaps in coverage (one year an annual report on state roads in published, the next year nada), state agency name changes (a serials cataloger's nightmare) etc. On top of this is the "unknown" copyright status issue. One hopes that all state docs would be public domain, but such is not the case.

    Here are a few things you may want to consider:

    1. what role does your library want to play in preserving state documents and making them available to patrons (does anyone else do this job?);

    2. how much time and resources can you afford to devote to this process;

    3. how far do you want to go to determining copyright status (are these docs public domain or not? how many different state agencies must be contacted to determine which state docs are public domain and which are not);

    4. do you think your uses are fair uses (in which case, you need not ask for any authorization to preserve/copy the state docs); and

    5. if you continue to preserve and provide access to state docs and the state docs are protected by copyright and your use is not fair, can you make some sweeping overall agreement with the state to exercise their copyrights in order to preserve and provide access to the documents. (I am thinking of a kind of "contract" you have with the state gov that allows you to exercise rights of copyright in order to preserve and provide access to the state docs. I have no idea if this is feasible).

    Bottom line: you will have to make the final decisions on how to move forward. My assumptions are: in many cases, the state agencies themselves have not thought about the copyright status of their publications; they would not care if the library made preservation copies; and there is a decent argument for fair use considering the "public" nature of state gov documents.

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