Let's begin with a little premise of my query. I have been learning the Ossetian language for the past few months. Unfortunately, resources on the language are few and far between, and most of them are in Russian. That said, I have been able to gather some materials (mostly online) that I have been using thus far to study. Problem is, now that I am venturing into more challenging grammatical topics, I feel that having physical copies of the books, articles and dictionaries would be necessary. Now, most of these resources are old Soviet-era stuff, and I don't know if they are still available, and even if they are, I have no way to have them delivered from Russia. I checked online (Amazon, ebay and the like), but none of the sellers have anything remotely related to the kinds of things I am looking for. So, I have decided to print some of these out. My question is whether it will be legal to do that? To be specific, the resources I am talking about include an Ossetian-Russian dictionary and two grammars of Ossetian.

  • Did you try ABEbooks? Use this search. Thordarsson is listed. – mkennedy Oct 2 '17 at 18:06
  • With regard to your comments below, your citizenship and US immigration status are not particularly relevant to the question. – phoog Dec 1 '17 at 13:52

The amount of copying that you would be doing is well above the limits for fair use in the US. There may be a much more generous version of "fair use" in some northern European country (I will look to see which one I'm thinking of), so it's possible that for research purposes, a complete copy could be made. Under Russian copyright law, as I understand it, whole-book copying is not an allowed free use. So you could be sued for copyright infringement, though perhaps not in your home jurisdiction. Your courts could conceivably enforce a ruling against you made by a Russian court.

Assuming that there is no fair use escape, the next question is whether your copying is with permission (thus not infringement), or without. I assume you acquired the soft copies from a web page containing the materials, so it would matter what the license was under which you obtained those copies. The license could explicitly prohibit downloading or printing, allow it, or more likely, leave you to guess. Indeed, it is highly likely that the website owner didn't bother to put any license out there. Permission can be reasonably be inferred from various statements on the web page (esp. if it is the Ossetian Wiki-associated site).

However, that does not mean that the distributing web-site is authorized to distribute the materials. Even if B gives you permission to download and print, if B does not hold the copyright (which he almost certainly does not), then the same questions have to be asked about how he got the materials. When you see an article that does not include any copyright notice and says nothing to indicate that use is restricted, your infringement might be innocent, which could reduce or eliminate liability.

It is likely that some of the works are still protected by copyright under Russian law (even works from the 50s), but Russian law only applies to works done in what is now Russian territory, and not e.g. part of Georgia, or former Georgia. The English translation of Abaev is legal because at the time, translations did not require permission under Soviet law.

Untangling the specific jurisdiction of concern will not be trivial. If your downloaded copy of the work is in fact illegal, then you already have an infringement problem. If the copy is legal, then you have to determine whether permission to print is given, or can be inferred. Apart from writing to the website operator to ask, I don't see any practical way to get a definitive answer.

  • Thanks for the answer; that was really helpful. I do live in the US, but I'm not a citizen. I'm here on an F1 visa. – sami.spricht.sprache Oct 2 '17 at 14:15
  • The items I possess are legal. One of the grammars is, as you guessed, a translation of Abajty's classic work. The other is by Þórðarsson. Both these are from links in Wikipedia. The dictionary is from an Ossetian community website that has some such resources for learning. – sami.spricht.sprache Oct 2 '17 at 14:24

A single copy for educational purposes, not resold, may be permissible under the fair use doctrine.

What country are you in, and what country are these works copyrighted in?

In the US, fair-use is applicable for scholarly purposes, although the copying of a whole book might be brought into question.


There is a practical issue to consider...if the documents are Soviet-era, who is the copyright owner, and do they exist anymore? How would they find out that you printed a copy and held it in your file cabinet?

This may be a poor example, but when I did research for a large US corporation, I kept single copies of papers in my file cabinets. Legal said it was OK to keep a single copy, but I was not allowed to permit other researchers to copy any of the papers. They would have to find their own copy. The idea is that the sole purpose of my copy was for my own (personal) research and study, not for the corporation or for others at the corporation.

  • Thanks for the answer; 'twas really helpful. I do live in the US, but I'm not a citizen. I'm here on an F1 visa. – sami.spricht.sprache Oct 2 '17 at 14:16
  • "How would they find out that you printed a copy and held it in your file cabinet?" That's definitely one way to look at it, but then everything about the legal status of copyrights is voided by taking that path. I would like to do things ina legal manner. – sami.spricht.sprache Oct 2 '17 at 14:18
  • Knowing the exact legal status of any of your documents, and therefore what you can do with them may be next to impossible to determine. I believe that you are best served with a practical solution, which would be to retain copies for personal scholarly research, showing that you obtained them from the web. And I would do little to publicize the genesis of your having those papers. As a long term protection, would see if they are additionally archived at a place like archive.org. That would show that there are at least two common places that they are obtainable from. – mongo Oct 2 '17 at 14:52

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