Unsupervised Copying Equipment
Section 108 of the U.S. Copyright Act includes a simple provision that can give important protection for libraries. By posting a general notice about copyright on photocopiers and other machines, the library is protected from liability for infringements committed by users of the equipment, provided the use is "unsupervised" by the library staff. The notices commonly appear on photocopiers, computers, scanners, and other devices in academic and public libraries.
Why should the library post a copyright notice?
Section 108(f)(1) of the U.S. Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) gives protection to libraries, archives, and their employees from liability that may arise from the "unsupervised use" of photocopy machines and other equipment at the library, provided that the equipment displays a notice about copyright law. (The text of the U.S. Copyright Act, including Section 108, is available on the U.S. Copyright Office website.)
The wording of the statute might stir a few questions, but the basic proposition is clear: If the library places the notice on the machine, the library may avoid potential legal liability for infringements that a user commits by using that equipment, provided that the use is not supervised by library staff. This law does not create complete immunity for all parties. The library may avoid legal responsibility, but the user of the machine may remain liable for his or her activities. For libraries, however, the cost of compliance is low, and the benefit is potentially enormous.
What equipment should have the notice?
The statute is applicable to more than just photocopiers. The language of the provision refers to “reproducing equipment” located on the "premises" of the library or archives. Therefore, librarians should affix an appropriate notice on any machine or equipment in the library that is available for use without staff supervision, and that is capable of making a copy of any work.
Notices may be affixed to computers, printers, scanners, detachable drives, tape decks, microfilm readers, cameras, and any other devices that are capable of making copies. Because the burden of compliance is low, the library should ordinarily resolve any doubt in favor of simply attaching the notice.
What is the standard form of notice?
The law specifies little about the content, placement, layout, or other details regarding the notices. Many libraries use this familiar statement, which has been recommended by the American Library Association:
Notice: The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material. The person using this equipment is liable for any infringement.
Libraries generally print the notice in a bold font and affix the printed notice or other placard to each machine where a user is likely to see it. The statute specifies that the "equipment" must display the notice. Therefore, it is preferable to post the notice on the equipment itself, and not generally nearby. The notice might be posted with scissors and tape, or it might be part of a computer’s screen saver or desktop. In all cases, the notice should be placed where a user of the equipment is reasonably likely to see it and read it.
Are alternative notices possible?
Because of the changing nature of equipment, copyrighted materials, and intended uses, the library may also consider innovative forms and placements of the notices. If space is tight on a small piece of equipment, the library might use a minimalist approach:
Notice: The making of a copy may be subject to copyright law.
Alternatively, the notice can be an opportunity to give more helpful information about copyright. Libraries might post a more elaborate notice:
Notice: The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material; the person using this equipment is liable for any infringement. For more information about copyright law, the rights of copyright owners, and the right of fair use to make limited copies for purposes such as teaching, research, and study at Florida International University, visit the Library copyright website at https://library.fiu.edu/copyright/faqs
Used under a Creative Commons BY-NC license from the Copyright Advisory Office of Columbia University, Kenneth D. Crews, director.