Copyright warning found by library photocopiers deemed misleading

Rick Anderson, University Librarian at Brigham Young University, writes on a peculiar fact of library life: false and misleading copyright warnings to be found by photocopiers.

Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or other reproduction. One of these specified conditions is that the photocopy or reproduction is not to be "used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research." If a user makes a request for, or later uses, a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in excess of "fair use," that user may be liable for copyright infringement.

The perceptive reader will notice that while the warning appears to honor the exemptions afforded to fair use, it describes them misleadingly.

The fair use doctrine … covers many kinds of use that would fall outside the category of "private study, scholarship, or research." So is it really the case that when you make a copy of an in-copyright document at Kinko's, you have the full spectrum of fair use rights – but if you copy (or receive a copy of) the same document in a library your fair use rights are significantly more restricted?

As a matter of fact, no. You still have the same fair use rights regardless of where the copy is made, because Section 108 says clearly that "nothing in this section… in any way affects the right of fair use as provided by section 107."

So if the law says that your rights in a library-copied document are the same as they are in a document copied anywhere else, why is a library required tell you otherwise? Why must libraries actively misinform their patrons about their actual rights under the law?

Narrows eyes, balls and shakes fist, growls: "U.S. Copyright Office."