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I'm learning languages and in my opinion, one way to improve my skills is to read books aloud. Making it a habit would help me with my vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar, etc.

I also think there might be some people online who would be interested in listening to books that I read aloud.

Therefore, I wonder, can I read parts of a book aloud online? Could I publish these videos on YouTube? Is that legal? I don't mind reading from older books, as I read those books might be public domain

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  • Vince, for help with your vocabulary and grammar, you may find the English Language Learner Stack Exchange helpful (ell.stackexchange.com), as well as possibly the English Stack Exchange (english.stackexchange.com); though for learning English, I would recommend the former.
    – sharur
    Aug 27 '18 at 21:43
  • Go to librivox.org where your help will be appreciated.
    – gnasher729
    Apr 27 '19 at 6:48
  • Depends on where you are
    – kisspuska
    Aug 1 at 4:34
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The following answer is based on US-law. I am not a lawyer; this is not legal advice.

If the book you read is in the public domain* you should be fine. Otherwise what you are doing is copyright infringement and probably not protected by fair use**.

One of the rights granted to copyright holders is to control derivative works, and transference to different mediums, which is what your recordings would be.

Under US law, whether an instance of copyright infringement is fair use is evaluated on a case-by-case basis, weighing four points:

  1. the purpose and character of one's use

  2. the nature of the copyrighted work

  3. what amount and proportion of the whole work was taken

  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of the copyrighted work

In my non-lawyer evaluation, point 1 depends on what you do in your video (unless you monetize your Youtube video, in which case it is likely to be decided against you), but if you are merely reading the book out aloud, it is unlikely to be in your favor (although it may not be against you as an "educational tool").

Point 2 depends on what is being read, with a informative work (e.g. a textbook) being more likely to be fair use than a creative work (e.g. a novel).

Point 3 depends on how much and what proportion of a work you use; since you are presumably reading a whole book, this would most likely be ruled against you.

Point 4 would almost certainly be decided against you, as you are essentially creating an unauthorized audiobook.

In summary, you can read a book aloud. You can record your reading of it for your personal use. You should NOT upload it to Youtube, or other sharing sites.

*Note that different countries have differing rules on when a book enters the public domain, and since the internet crosses borders, multiple rule sets may apply.

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  • "You can record your reading of it for your personal use." On what legal basis is this allowed, even if the other three factors (1-3) are against your use? Presumably recording it for personal use has no impact on the market, so factor 4 seems to be in your favour.
    – Brandin
    Aug 28 '18 at 9:46
  • @Brandin: Copyright is decided on a case by case basis, as is what weight should be given; It is possible that a single factor can outweigh the other three. Also, Factor 1 would also be in the OP's favor if it the purpose and character of their use was "personal", but the OP mentions sharing it on youtube, which would not be personal use.
    – sharur
    Nov 26 '18 at 17:13
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    Your "technically" is technically wrong; the law is worded such that it's not an infringement. "Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work... is not an infringement of copyright." - 17 USC 107.
    – D M
    Apr 25 '19 at 22:39
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    @kisspuska: There is something similar in US law, referred to as "personal use", referred to in the second bolded section "In summary"; however, since this question talks about sharing said video on Youtube, my understanding is that use is no longer "personal".
    – sharur
    Aug 2 at 14:18
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    @sharur On further research, it seems that the courts treat it like an affirmative defense, though, even though it shouldn't be according to the language in the statute. law.uw.edu/wlr/print-edition/print-edition/vol-90/2/…
    – D M
    Aug 2 at 22:37
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If the work is in the public domain (probably through the copyright having expired) there is no copyright protection, so the issue of fair use does not arise.

Fair Use is an exception to copyright in US law. In the copyright laws of other countries than the US there are various exceptions provided, but they not are very close to fair use in scope. Copyright infringement suits can be brought in any country where infringement takes place. The local copyright law applies in such cases.

There are not enough specific facts provided to make a reliable fair use analysis, much less consider any of the various non-US exceptions to copyright.

If the apparent purpose is educational, that tends to tilt toward fair use for factor 1. Just how much of the book would be read aloud would need to be known to make even an approximate judgement on factor 3, and that might also affect factor 4, particularly on whether the video could serve as a replacement for the original.

In some counties there are specific exceptions to copyright for "personal use" but not in US law to the best of my knowledge.

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  • Educational purpose would also be very probative. Short excerpts to help others learn pronunciation and intonation and accent, particular from words most often read in a particular source (e.g. "muggle") would fair much better in fair use analysis.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 2 at 21:07

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