Online Story Times, Copyright and Fair Use/Fair Dealing

Story-times are one of the greatest selling points of libraries all over the world. When the coronavirus quarantine started in 2020 story-times were among the first programs shifted to an online format.

It is a long-held view that live readings of story-time books in libraries are legal, thanks largely to the Fair Use doctrine in US copyright law, and Fair Dealing in UK law.

Fair Use (USA)

Fair Use describes uses of copywritten works by entities other than the copyright holder in quantities, means or purposes that do not infringe on the rights of the copyright holder.

Under section 107 0f the Copyright Act (Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use) in order to perform, utilize, or reproduce a copyrighted work and be covered by the “Fair Use” exemption, the use must meet four (4) criteria:

The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

~Public Library story-times are always non-profit & educational,

The nature of the copyrighted work

~The work used is (generally) a picture story book – which is meant to be used by or for certain age groups, and (generally) are meant to be read aloud

The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole

~The nature and purpose of the work is meant to be read from start to finish. In most cases the entirety of the work is used in a story-time.

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

~Story-time does not have a detrimental effect on the marketability of the work. In most cases, story-time books highlight those works and increase marketability.

Fair Dealing (UK)

A statutory definition for fair dealing does not exist; it will always be a matter of fact, degree and interpretation in every fair use case. The Intellectual Property Office lists the key factors used to determine the validity of whether a particular dealing with a work is fair as follows:

Has the use of the work impacted negatively on the market for the original work? If the creator or owner has lost potential revenue through the re-use of their work, it is not likely to be fair.

~Story-time does not have a detrimental effect on the marketability of the work. In most cases, story-time books highlight those works and increase marketability.

In the UK authors & illustrators are compensated through the Public Lending Right scheme. Each time a book is borrowed by a library worker for story-time it contributes towards the amount that registered authors & illustrators receive each year through PLR.

Was it reasonable and necessary to use the amount of work that was taken?

~The nature and purpose of the work is meant to be read from start to finish. In most cases the entirety of the work is used in a story-time.

The rights to making a video or audio recording of a story are set out explicitly in law as belonging to the copyright holder.

The current theory is that like in-person story-times, live (unrecorded) online story-times are ephemeral and also covered by fair use.

To date there has been no official legal precedent that supports this theory.

At present most publishers in the US, UK and elsewhere have temporarily relaxed copyright restrictions (with a number of caveats) to allow libraries and educational institutions to offer pre-recorded and live online story-times.

Once the threat of Covid has receded, many libraries may look at keeping a reduced virtual story-time offer in conjunction with their in-person ones for patrons who are unable to visit a physical branch; when this starts happening a wide-ranging discussion about this and copyright will begin in earnest.

Resources:

Section 107 of the Copyright Act (USA): https://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap1.html#107

Fair Use Copyright Explained: https://www.bl.uk/business-and-ip-centre/articles/fair-use-copyright-explained

Public Lending Right: https://www.bl.uk/plr/about-us

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