Distance Education - Digitizing Books

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  • I have a teacher who wants to run an online class for 35 students. She wants to scan & post chapters of a book that is not available online. She thinks that if she buys 35 copies of the book, then she has the right to distribute sections of this text to students, since she believes it's no different than loaning them the physical copy of the book. Only the 35 students in the class will have access to the online course.

    I believe it's a violation since transferring format (print to electronic) is a copyright violation. Also, aren't the electronic rights separate from print rights? Even if you own a print copy, that doesn't entitle you to digitize it? Right?
  • Our copyright law does nor distinguish between print and electronic rights. But it is clear that a person who buys a copy of a work is free to distribute that specific copy as they please, but not to make additional copies from it without further authorization.

    No matter how many copies she buys, therefore, the digital copy that is made and distributed must be done either with permission or on the basis of fair use. Simply buying 35 print copies does not, by itself, give her the right to distribute digital copies from those books. She is free, however, to mail the copies she purchases to her students, since no additional copies would be made thereby.
  • I would add, though, that transferring format (print to electronic) is not necessarily in and of itself a copyright violation. When you perform such actions for yourself, it is very likely a fair use.
  • Scanning a couple of chapters of a print book to put on electronic reserve is a pretty common practice, and the only stipulation is that the library or instructor must legally own a copy (not one copy per student!!) of the original. Most libraries are likely to limit it to two chapters or no more than 20% of the book, so you may want to be careful about how much.

    In practice, adhering to this library limitation should also be good practice for courseware, if that's where this professor is putting the materials. But if you are really concerned, her safest course is to put the material on library reserve and link to it from her online course page.

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