My library provides two ways to get a digital copy of a book:

  1. If the book is already digitized, then for a reasonable fee they allow to download it in PDF.
  2. For another very reasonable fee, they allow to use my own camera and make photos of the book.

There is an old book (copyright is already expired), which I would like to share over the internet. Is it legal to just get PDF from them and share it, or should I create my own copy with a camera, or only the library has the right to distribute these copies?

Update: I am located in Belarus. However, I would like to understand the international practice for this.

2 Answers 2


You don't say where you are located. Copyright laws are different in different countries, am going to assume US laws.

Under US law, a faithful digitization of a book does not get a new copyeight, see Bridgeman Art Library, Ltd. v. Corel Corp., 25 F. Supp. 2d 421 (S.D.N.Y. 1998) and thw Wikipedia article about that case

(On the issue of mrequired originality, see also FEIST PUBLICATIONS, INC. v. RURAL TELEPHONE SERVICE COMPANY, INC. (No. 89-1909.) (1991) which dealt with copying a telephone directory.)

The court in Bridgeman held that:

It is uncontested that Bridgeman's images are substantially exact reproductions of public domain works, albeit in a different medium. The images were copied from the underlying works without any avoidable addition, alteration or transformation. Indeed, Bridgeman strives to reproduce precisely those works of art.


The mere reproduction of a work of art in a different medium should not constitute the required originality for the reason that no one can claim to have independently evolved any particular medium.'" As discussed above, the law requires "some element of material alteration or embellishment" to the totality of the work. At bottom, the totality of the work is the image itself, and Bridgeman admittedly seeks to duplicate exactly the images of the underlying works.


[O]ne need not deny the creativity inherent in the art of photography to recognize that a photograph which is no more than a copy of the work of another as exact as science and technology permit lacks originality. That is not to say such a feat is trivial, simply not original. The more persuasive analogy is that of a photocopier. Surely designing the technology to produce exact reproductions of documents required much engineering talent, but that does not make the reproductions copyrightable.

The Bridgeman court was actually construing UK law, but the earthlier phase of Bridgeman i and the SCOTUS case of Feist show the same result under UIS law.

Note that books and other works published before 1925 are now out of copyright in the US. Copyright can also be lost ion other ways, such as publishing without a copyright notice before the effective date of the 1976 act, and failure to properly renew a work published in the US before 1964.

Assuming that the book is not under copyright, neither the library nor anyone else has a US copyright in the PFD. Unless the library imposes some additional restriction by contract, any such PDF may be copied or shared freely. It may even be sold or rented. And the validity of such an additional agreement would be questionable, but since the question does not mention such an agreement, I will not go into that further.


The digitized book is usually distributed to the library pursuant to its agreement to a contactual license. You, when you sign on the Terms of Service of the library in connection with accessing its digitized books, agree to be contractually bound by the license under which the library is able to give you access. The license will almost always prohibit you from redistributing the digitized book.

So, your redistribution of the book would be a breach of the license agreement by you which is a breach of contract.

It would also violate the copyright holder's right if the digitized book is still subject to copyright, because it is a distribution of a copy without the permission of the copyright owner via a license directly or indirectly from the copyright owner.

Obviously, of course, the laws of Belarus might say something different about the law than what I am familiar with, and the license agreement might allow redistribution (which you could determine by reading the Terms of Service and if you could obtain it, the license agreement, if any). If the Terms of Service contained something like a Creative Commons license, it might be legal to distribute the digitized copy.

  • The book itself is not subject to author's copyright anymore. Terms of service of the library do not say anything about digitized book. But even if they did, according to @SavidSiegel 's answer, such restrictions would be not valid.
    – Yahor
    Commented Nov 18, 2020 at 16:17
  • 1
    @Yahor I think that you have read too much into his answer. A lack of copyright protection does not imply that there cannot be contractual obligations. Indeed, trade secrets are protected primarily through contractual obligations rather than generally applicable statutory IP protections.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 18, 2020 at 20:14

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