To save on textbooks in college, I intend to borrow someone else's and take pictures of the pages, and then read the pictures. However I do not intend to at any point publish the pictures, and would only use them for personal use.

Is this technically copywrite infringement, because I am not supposed to be able to read text that I did not pay for? Or is this allowed, because I am not distributing copywrited material? This is somewhat equivalent to renting a movie and recording it so I can watch it whenever I want for only the rental price.

What is the legality of this? I do not see how the government would know if I did these, unless they are spying on the contents of my camera somehow, but is it technically illegal?

  • 2
    "This is somewhat equivalent to renting a movie and recording it so I can watch it whenever I want for only the rental price" This is also copyright infringement.
    – Ron Beyer
    Sep 2, 2021 at 18:19
  • Or it would be infringement in countries without a personal use exception. Sep 2, 2021 at 18:33
  • @DavidSiegel Which countries have a personal use exception?
    – user40785
    Sep 2, 2021 at 18:35
  • @user40785 See recent additions to my answer for some countries that have or had such an exception Sep 2, 2021 at 19:36
  • Is the personal-use defense really going to have any application here? I don't think that ripping off copies solely to avoid paying for them is what they had in mind.
    – bdb484
    Sep 2, 2021 at 22:58

3 Answers 3


Technically this is copyright infringement, because you are making a copy of the text, or a significant part of it. Or more exactly it would be in soem countries, but not others.

In some countries "personal use" is an exception to copyright, and in those countries making such a copy for your own use would be lawful and not infringement. The US does not have such an exception, and I think neither does the UK.

In the US the primary exception to copyright is fair use. Fair use is complicated, and intentionally vague. There is no clear line between what is fair use and what is not. But in this case, it seems that you will be copying a substantial part of the book, and that doing so will permit you not to purchase a copy, which you otherwise might do. Those things will tend to weigh against a claim ofm fair use.

Legally, taking pictures is no different than using a photocopier to make copies on paper, or indeed copying the text by hand. In each case one is making a copy without permission.

Of course, if this is strictly for personal use, it is unlikely that the copyright owner would ever learn of it, or would choose to sue. But that does not affect whether something is copyright infringement or not.

Note that it is not infringement for someone to loan you a copy of the book, and for you to read it and study it before returning it. That you did not pay for the text is not the determining factor.

Copyright is literally the right to make copies. Making a copy without permission is infringement unless an exception to copyright applies.

Personal Use exemptions


Sections 5.2(a) and 5.2(b) of the EU's Information Society Directive provide such exceptions in some cases. According to the Wikipedia article:

  • art. 5.2(a) paper reproductions by photocopying or similar methods, except of sheet music, if there is compensation for rightsholders;
  • art. 5.2(b) reproductions made for private and non-commercial use if there is compensation for rightholders;

In addition, I believe that some EU countries have more extensive personal use exemptions dating from before this directive which remain in place.


According to the UK's official page "Exceptions to Copyright":

You are allowed to copy limited extracts of works when the use is non-commercial research or private study, but you must be genuinely studying (like you would if you were taking a college course). Such use is only permitted when it is ‘fair dealing’ and copying the whole work would not generally be considered fair dealing.

The purpose of this exception is to allow students and researchers to make limited copies of all types of copyright works for non-commercial research or private study. In assessing whether your use of the work is permitted or not you must assess if there is any financial impact on the copyright owner because of your use. Where the impact is not significant, the use may be acceptable.


Section 52 of the Copyright Act of India provides in relevant part:

  1. Certain acts not to be infringement of copyright. —

(1) The following acts shall not constitute an infringement of copyright, namely, —

[(a) a fair dealing with any work, not being a computer programme, for the purposes of—

(i) private or personal use, including research;

Section 52 (1) lists more than 30 separate exceptions to copyright, but none of the othes seem relevant here.


In "Exceptions and Limits to Copyright and Neighboring Rights" by Pierre Sirinelli, Professor Paris I University (Part of a WIPO workshop), it is said on page 12 that:

At first glance, the exception applicable to private copies appears to be a universal solution. Many different forms of private copying are, however, accepted and a certain number of questions remain unanswered. The principle of freedom to make private copies appears in almost all régimes, but in very different forms or stated in very different ways.

It may apply implicitly as a result of the author’s monopoly and “acts subject to restriction”. The requirement on reproduction for public use (to be found in almost every law, see for example Article L.122-3 of the French Intellectual Property Code), on the other hand, leads to the conclusion that private copies are not subject to the author’s authorization.

In other countries, the freedom stems quite simply from the acceptance of a general exception. ...

The solution adopted in other countries regarding this freedom is expressly set out by the legislators in the list of exceptions to copyright. (In France, for example, Article L.122-5 of the Intellectual Property Code; Germany, Article 53.1 of the Law of September 9, 1965; Portugal, Article 81b) of the code of September 17, 1985; and Tunisia. ... Lastly, in some countries it can be inferred from somewhat more specific exceptions. These can include “fair dealing” (for example, copies for individual study purposes or research, see below) present in some copyright laws (Article 29.2 a) of the Canadian Act, Article 29.1 of the British Act – see below – for the moment Article 40 of the Australian Act).

In Canada, for example, a private copy can be made both of a work already existing on a material medium and a work not yet fixed on such a support (a broadcast is one example). A private copy means one single reproduction of the work (uniqueness of the copy made) and genuinely private use (which excludes any reproduction for the purposes of distribution or communication to the public or for profit)

On page 10 of the same paper it is said:

... For example, some Member States (UK and Ireland) provide in their legislation a general ‘fair dealing’ exception for the purposes of research, private study, criticism and review and reporting of current events. Exceptions for these purposes also exist in other Member States, but are more narrowly defined there (such as in Sweden, Belgium, Germany and Greece). Exceptions for educational and scientific purposes form another important category set out in most Member States’ legislation, whereas the scope of such exception differs widely. (Emphasis added)

  • How much of it is considered a significant part? If they are only studying one unit at a time, and I delete previous units text pictures, could I avoid having copied 'a significant part' at once?
    – user40785
    Sep 2, 2021 at 18:27
  • 1
    There is no specific percentage. But the scheme you describe will not make it less substantial. Sep 2, 2021 at 18:29
  • Also I am guessing encrypting the pictures would reduce the likelyhood of getting caught, but would not make it any more legal?
    – user40785
    Sep 2, 2021 at 18:37
  • Exactly correct all around. If you take pictures of enough pages to get through one class lesson, you've copied a "significant" portion. But even if that weren't true, it wouldn't help because you're going to fail every other part of the fair-use test. There aren't many easy questions when it comes to fair-use, but this is pretty blatantly illegal.
    – bdb484
    Sep 2, 2021 at 21:44

This is a very straightforward case of copyright infringement. The publisher of the book holds the exclusive right to make copies of the book, as well as the exclusive right to distribute copies of the book, as well as the exclusive (but limited) right to sell copies of the book. Infringing any one of these rights is sufficient to give rise to a copyright violation.

As you noted, there is not a particularly great likelihood that you will be caught, sued, or prosecuted, but if you were, you would not have any great defenses.

  • Would my best defense be invoking the 4th amendment, because how would they know unless they illegally searched my private files?
    – user40785
    Sep 2, 2021 at 18:21
  • 1
    That's an entirely different question, but there are of course plenty of ways for them to know. If someone gave you the book to copy, that person could report you. Anyone who sees you with the copies could report you. Anyone who you tell about the copies could report you. More problematically, a civil suit is more likely than criminal charges, and the Fourth Amendment won't do you any good there.
    – bdb484
    Sep 2, 2021 at 18:24

It is technically illegal. The government generally does not care, it's the copyright owner who cares (who will sue you). The government may get involved in large-scale infringement for profit enterprises (hence the FBI warning), but not what you propose. You can only be sure if it is infringement if it is also not "fair use", which is a defense. Since your infringement is not "transformative" and it does have some effect on market, plus the level of copying is more than the minimum envisioned under fair use, it probably would not be defensible as fair use.

  • Note that "fair use:" is very specifically a US concept, adn the question does not say or indicate that this is in the US, although it does not say that it isn't. Sep 2, 2021 at 18:40
  • It's unlikely that a person would invoke the 4th amendment if there weren't intending the jurisdiction to be US.
    – user6726
    Sep 2, 2021 at 19:03
  • Note also that being "transformative", although often mentioned in case law, is not one of the four statutory factors that must be considered in any fair use analysis. Sep 2, 2021 at 19:39

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