Copyright: Libraries and Photocopy Machines

Can a library be liable for a patron's illegal copying?

Can a library be found liable for infringement if a patron uses the photocopy machine illegally? It’s very unlikely.

A library or archive will not be liable for copyright infringement for the unsupervised use of photocopying machines provided that there is a notice on the photocopy machine that making copies may be subject to copyright law. This is not true however, if the library is aware or has reason to believe that multiple copies are being made of a single work.

The Warning Required on Library Photocopy Machines

In order to comply with the Copyright Act, the following warning should be placed prominently on all photocopy machines and wherever orders for copying are accepted. If the warning is on or near a photocopy machine it should be printed on heavy paper or other durable material in at least 18 points type size. If the warning is on a photocopy order form, it should also be located prominently and printed in the same type size throughout the form.


The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material. Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or other reproduction. One of these specified conditions is that the photocopy or reproduction is not to be "used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research." If a user makes a request for, or later uses, a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in excess of "fair use," that user may be liable for copyright infringement. This institution reserves the right to refuse to accept a copying order if, in its judgment, fulfillment of the order would involve violation of copyright law.

Can a Library Make Photocopies of Works?

Section 108 of the Copyright Act of 1976 provides that non profit libraries or archives open to the public may prepare single copyrighted copies or phonorecords of works. These copies and phonorecords must bear the copyright notice. Libraries may make copies for the preservation or replacement of a work in the collection when it is not possible to purchase a replacement at fair price; or upon request from another library, one article from a periodical or a small part of any other copyrighted work may be copied and distributed to that library. The rights of reproduction and distribution under section 108 do not apply to a musical work, a pictorial, graphic or sculptural work, or a motion picture or other audiovisual work.

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