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What is the law on scanning pages from a copyright book for a friend? Not the whole book, but a section or whatever the friend needs. What about if the book is out of print?

If it is illegal, then what's the difference between this and lending the friend the book? If the person lends the book and the friend does his own personal scanning with it, is that a different scenario, and if so what is the legality of it?

I live in the UK, but knowing the international side of this is probably important too. Could a person in the UK scan pages for a friend in another country, for example? Can we generalise?

If it's black and white, what about in practice? Would a friend copying for a friend as a one off for no malicious intents or purposes be something many publishers would allow? Is it common for single authors to allow this? Or is this never allowed and either gets generally overlooked, gets prosecuted regularly?

I am asking this because I am studying the ethics of this concurrently, and knowing what the law is is an important side of that.

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  • What if you destroy the page after copying it? Would that become the original work instead?
    – Tvde1
    Jul 12, 2023 at 12:39
  • @Tvde1 I assume this would be relevant in deciding the intent, for fair use.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Jul 12, 2023 at 14:00
  • Questions about ethics shoul be on the phil se
    – Neil Meyer
    Jul 13, 2023 at 18:15
  • "[would copying for a friend be] ... something many publishers would allow" - Probably not. The only time I've seen publishers give specific permission to copy portions of the book to give the results of those copies to someone else was in the case of computer programming books, and that permission only extended to the source code samples contained within the books, usually with a specific license attached (e.g. MIT, GPL, custom license, etc.).
    – Brandin
    Jul 25, 2023 at 6:16

6 Answers 6

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It should not surprise you that copyright protects the right to (among other things) make copies. There are limited exceptions that are considered "fair use", like if you reproduce a limited amount of text for educational, reporting, or review purposes. Giving your friend a copy of a large portion of the text just because they want it would almost certainly violate copyright. Whether the book is available or out-of-print has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on who holds the copyright or whether your actions violate it.

This is very different from giving your friend the book itself. The book itself is covered under the "first sale doctrine", meaning that by buying a copy of the book, you buy the right to sell, transfer, or dispose of that particular copy, but it doesn't give you the right to make more copies.

I will note that in practice, it is vanishingly unlikely that the copyright holder would ever learn of your isolated instance of limited infringement in the first place (especially since it's out of print), much less bring legal action against you for making a single copy that did not affect their bottom line.

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  • 4
    @RabbiKaii Yes, intent matters - that determines the "use" in "fair use". Copying a section of text might or might not be infringement depending on what you do with it. In general, copying may be fair use if the copying is limited, doesn't affect the market for the original, and has some didactic purpose, but it's an overall combination of factors. Jul 11, 2023 at 20:50
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    To clarify: "intent" probably does not matter in the sense OP is asking about. Yes, "Pretty Woman" was fair use rather than a copyright violation because 2 Live Crew intended to make fun of Roy Orbison. But OP cannot escape copyright liability because he doesn't intend to violate the author's copyright/cost the author money/maliciously injure the author.
    – bdb484
    Jul 11, 2023 at 22:09
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    In the US, the fact that the book is out of print (or rather, cannot be purchased at a fair price) gives libraries certain rights to copy it. 17 USC 108 (e). (Also, when the book goes out of print, the copyright reverts back to the author under typical publisher contracts, but that's a different story.)
    – user71659
    Jul 11, 2023 at 23:28
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    "There are limited exceptions that are considered "fair use" - Note that OP is from the UK, and (the legal doctrine of) fair use is US-specific.
    – marcelm
    Jul 12, 2023 at 11:33
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    @marcelm It's mostly a terminology issue. Instead of "fair use", the UK has "fair dealing", which covers basically the same territory. -- If you want to be precise about terminology, fine, but your comment can be read as implying that the underlying concept doesn't exist in the UK, which isn't quite right.
    – R.M.
    Jul 12, 2023 at 12:31
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It depends on the use your friend will make of the copy

Any amount of copying is prima facie copyright infringement.

UK law allows fair dealing copying for specific use cases. You don’t tell us why your friend wants a copy so we can’t tell if it fits one of the exemptions. If it does, the copying must still be fair - a small portion of the work and not the total work, for example.

Lending your friend the book is not a problem because there is no copying involved. If they make copes while they have it - see above.

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Copyright law generally reserves to the owner of the copyright the exclusive right to copy the material:

  • United States. 17 U.S.C. § 106: "the owner of copyright under this title has the exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following... (1) to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies..."
  • Canada. Copyright Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. C-42, s. 3 "copyright... means the sole right to produce or reproduce the work..."

These are just two examples of domestic legislation giving effect to the countries' commitments as parties to the Berne Convention to ensure that "[a]uthors of literary and artistic works protected by this Convention shall have the exclusive right of authorizing the reproduction of these works, in any manner or form" (art. 9).

Many countries also provide a fair-use exception or fair-dealing right, consistent with art. 9(2) of the Berne Convention. For example, see:

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§ 53 of the German copyright law got you and your friend covered. Specifically, the first subparagraph says:

Zulässig sind einzelne Vervielfältigungen eines Werkes durch eine natürliche Person zum privaten Gebrauch auf beliebigen Trägern, sofern sie weder unmittelbar noch mittelbar Erwerbszwecken dienen, soweit nicht zur Vervielfältigung eine offensichtlich rechtswidrig hergestellte oder öffentlich zugänglich gemachte Vorlage verwendet wird. Der zur Vervielfältigung Befugte darf die Vervielfältigungsstücke auch durch einen anderen herstellen lassen, sofern dies unentgeltlich geschieht oder es sich um Vervielfältigungen auf Papier oder einem ähnlichen Träger mittels beliebiger photomechanischer Verfahren oder anderer Verfahren mit ähnlicher Wirkung handelt.

Individual reproductions of a work by a natural person for private use on any medium are permitted, provided they are not used directly or indirectly for commercial purposes, unless a template that was obviously illegally produced or made publicly accessible is used for the reproduction. The person authorized to make copies may also have the copies made by someone else, provided this is done free of charge or the copies are made on paper or a similar medium using any photomechanical process or other process with a similar effect.

You presumably obtained the book legally. Therefore, you're not violating " unless a template that was obviously illegally produced or made publicly accessible".

If you're making copies on paper, your friend can even pay you for it. If you're scanning the pages, your friend must not pay you for your trouble or scan the pages themselves.

There is no strict definition for what "for private use" means. I learned in law classes that you should stay in the single digits for the number of friends you make copies for.

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  • Here's a good case to test the limits of this: Imagine the friend needs the book in order to look up some information that is only available in that book, in order to write his own book, which he plans to sell. His own book only relies on this information to a partial degree.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Jul 12, 2023 at 13:17
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    @RabbiKaii If he already plans to write his own book based off the book you, that would likely not be permitted because the copy would serve a commercial purpose. In my last paragraph, I explicitly stated that the purpose of the copy must be private (personal) use.
    – UTF-8
    Jul 12, 2023 at 19:00
  • A reasonable response. This brings to mind why I asked in the question about what's the difference with lending the book. If I lend him the book, and he uses it for researching his own commercial book, what's the difference?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Jul 12, 2023 at 20:34
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    @RabbiKaii in that case, your friend is allowed to do anything that you're allowed to do with the book. This is known as the Erschöpfungsgrundsatz: The copyright holder's rights do not extend to control the use of copies that have been created legitimately.
    – UTF-8
    Jul 13, 2023 at 10:29
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    @RabbiKaii Lending the book or selling it to him does not produce a copy, so no copyright is infringed by that act. If your friend, however, while creating is own commercial book, makes copies or derivatives works from the book (e.g. by translating or paraphrasing large portions of the book to put the deriviative text into his own book), then he is likely guilty of copyright infringement. At that point it doesn't matter how he obtained the book -- whether he got it from you legitimately via a physical sale, whether he got it illegally from a pirate web site, or by some other means.
    – Brandin
    Jul 25, 2023 at 6:12
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Any copying, which includes photographing, xeroxing, scanning or retyping is copyright infringement. Copyright protection exists for books that are out of print. Infringement exists with any amount of copying, though in the US there is the "fair use" defense, which is marginally applicable.

The difference between you scanning the book, versus lending (or giving) the book to the friend and having the friend do the scanning is that in the former case you violate the law and in the latter case your friend violates the law. There is a third case where nobody violates the law and you lend the friend a copy of the book. Also, borrowing a book from a library (governmental or otherwise) does not change the outcome, because the law prohibits anyone making any unauthorized copy, regardless of the ownership status of the physical original.

Generally speaking, wherever you are you cannot infringe copyright. Eritrea and Iran are hard cases, since Iran does not enforce copyright from other cases though there is Iran-internal protection of Iranian material; and Eritrea simply does not have any copyright protection.

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  • Thanks for the answer. Could you expand, and cite a source for your first sentence
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Jul 11, 2023 at 20:33
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    law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/17/106: the owner of copyright under this title has the exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following: (1) to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords... The law doesn't list all the ways of making copies, nor does it explicitly address cases saying "Yes, it is even prohibited when you scan a book" (since the law was written before there was such a thing as scanning).
    – user6726
    Jul 11, 2023 at 20:38
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    I've listened to a lot of Tom Scott's video on copyright law on YouTube. From this and general culture, I've received the impression that copyright is indeed at its theoretical core as you state, but in practice (likely falls under the "fair use" you brought up), it is more complex, and I was wondering if a single friend as a one off copying a portion of a book for another friend would be generally deemed something most authors and publishers would be alright with. We live in the age of easily sending snaps on whatsapp etc... Perhaps that is now going out of scope for Law SA
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Jul 11, 2023 at 20:43
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    "because the law prohibits anyone making any unauthorized copy, regardless of the ownership status of the physical original" Not so. In the US, qualified libraries have certain rights to make copies by statute, see 17 USC 108. In particular note subsection (d), which gives users certain rights to copy from library materials and subsection (e) which gives rights to materials that can't be bought reasonably.
    – user71659
    Jul 11, 2023 at 22:53
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    @gerrit why specifically me lol
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Jul 12, 2023 at 9:21
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Published works may be freely shared among "people closely connected to each other, such as relatives or friends". Copyright owners are compensated collectively through a tax levied on devices and media capable of facilitating such copies.

This exemption from copyright is stipulated in the Federal Act on Copyright and Related Rights, article 19, which writes:

Published works may be used for private use. Private use means:

a. any personal use of a work or use within a circle of persons closely connected to each other, such as relatives or friends;

[...]

This Article does not apply to computer programs.

("use" encompasses any use of the work, including making copies for those people)

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  • TY. May I ask how "Copyright owners" receive their compensation?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Jul 13, 2023 at 0:56
  • That is described in article 20. A brief non-normative description of the process by the corresponding government office is here.
    – meriton
    Jul 13, 2023 at 1:03

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