If my university's library has a book available for students, is it piracy/illegal if those students download some copy from the internet in PDF?

There are some books I would like to study but they are too big to carry around and it would be nice to be able to read them on an Android tablet anywhere.

  • 1
    What is piracy?
    – COMisHARD
    Sep 12 '16 at 23:23
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    As far as I know, the fact that your university happens to own a physical copy of the book has no relevance to whether or not you are allowed to download an electronic copy. If it would otherwise be illegal, the fact that your university owns a copy doesn't make it legal. Oct 12 '16 at 19:22
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    Downloading the copy of your University Book may come under copyright infringement but its not Piracy. Piracy is distribution of illegally downloaded content. Oct 18 '16 at 3:24

No, you can't just download a book, as there's a big difference:

  • Downloading from the internet is illegal because that's just copyright infringement.
  • Taking a physical copy is alright, because it's a LEGALLY DISTRIBUTED WORK. The internet sources aren't legal because the author of said book most likely did not authorize internet downloading or re-distribution.

In short, no. It would be way easier to avoid being investigated for copyright charges by just carrying the book.


In short "no, it's not legal".

The libraries possession of a physical copy of the book does not confer rights on you to get an electronic copy. (For a few reasons, one is that there is no control to prevent the book being lent out to someone else while you use it electronically - i.e., 2 copies)

[ There are, occasionally, exceptions to what I've written - for example if the book has a license which allows it to be copied - that would not apply to most current books - particularly current text books. ]

Regarding the word "piracy", taken literally, that is something that generally occurs on the high seas. But, "piracy" has long been used to mean copyright infringement. In Goldstein v. California 412 U.S. 546 (1973), the Supreme Court recognized the unauthorized duplication of recordings has commonly been called piracy. The American Heritage Dictionary has a definition that means infringement.


There is no general answer to the question, because it depends on license terms. As a general rule, you can't assume that just because you can see something on a web page it is there for the taking, but it is possible that it is allowed. Publishers typically manage access to their content and technologically limit what you have access to, but sometimes a work is available as a PDF that is in principle downloadable. In that case, there may be a button to click where you are required to accept the license terms. Sometime the library is responsible for limiting access, and institutions are known to make mistakes and make things more available than they are supposed to. In such a situation, it is the institution that bears responsibility for not having sufficiently protected the material, and customers are not generally expected to know the details of the license arrangement between the rights-holder and the institution. One should look diligently for signs that you are not allowed to download the content, for example explicit words to that effect, an "agree to terms" button (which you should read, even though people usually don't), and especially the situation where it appears technically impossible to download the pdf but you happen to know a way around the restriction. The problem is that it may be impossible to know with certainty whether a mode of access is allowed, since you don't get to see the license.

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