Skip to Main Content

Using Content for Library Reserves

Reserves and electronic reserves (e-reserves) provide a way for instructors to share content with students. This content often includes class notes along with copyrighted materials such as books, book chapters, journal articles, and other works provided by the instructor or purchased by the library. With e-reserves, content is posted electronically and available to students online.

Traditional Paper Reserves

Materials placed on traditional reserve are available to students in paper form at the library. Your librarian can place purchased materials on reserve without obtaining copyright permission. However, in most cases making multiple copies of these materials and placing those copies on reserve does require copyright permission.

While the Copyright Act does not specifically address library reserves, standards do exist for paper-based reserves. These standards are based on the Copyright Act’s fair-use provision. When evaluating copyright requirements for library reserves, use the Fair Use Checklist to weigh the fair-use factors as they apply to your particular situation.

The American Library Association (ALA) has endorsed the following standards for sharing copyrighted material through paper-based reserves:

  1. The amount of material should be reasonable in relation to the total amount of material assigned for one term of a course, taking into account the nature of the course, its subject matter, and level. See 17 U.S.C. § 107(1) and (3).
  2. The number of copies should be reasonable in light of the number of students enrolled, the difficulty and timing of assignments, and the number of other courses that may assign the same materials. See 17 U.S.C. § 107(1) and (3).
  3. The material should contain a notice of copyright. See 17 U.S.C. § 401.
  4. The effect of photocopying the material should not be detrimental to the market for the work. (In general, the library should own at least one copy of the work.) See 17 U.S.C. § 107(4).

Electronic Reserves

Unless it is covered by fair use, public domain, or another specific copyright exception, anything posted to an electronic environment requires copyright permission prior to posting. The “first use is free” standard invoked by many libraries is not part of the Copyright Act or any subsequent rulings or provisions.

There are no widely accepted standards for e-reserves, although the 1996 Conference on Fair Use (CONFU) endeavored to establish some. The Association of American Publishers’ (AAP) Frequently Asked Questions on E-Reserves and Recommendations for Applying Fair Use in the Development of Electronic Reserves Systems—developed by several leading U.S. Library Associations—represent two of many different answers to the question of “how should academic institutions address e-reserves?”

In short, both groups recommend that academic institutions explore a range of e-reserve practices and select a combination that illustrates respect for the law and the institution’s overall position on copyright rights. When evaluating practices, the institution should also consider its dual role as both a copyright holder and a user of others’ copyrighted works.

The following is a summary of e-reserve policies followed by many academic institutions possessing comprehensive copyright practices.

  • E-reserve materials should be limited to small portions—usually single articles or chapters, or less—of copyrighted works.
  • E-reserves should not be used as a substitute for the purchase of books or subscriptions, or other materials required for educational purposes.
  • In a situation where a course pack would require copyright permission, e-reserves in the same context (instructor, course) would also require copyright permission.
  • If the material in paper format does not pass the fair-use test, it will not pass the fair-use test in electronic format.
  • When switching from paper use to electronic use, permission must be obtained for the material in the new format.
  • Copies of materials placed on e-reserve should be made from originals—either printed materials or authorized copies—owned by the institution or instructor.
  • By password or other control, e-reserves should be accessible only by the students in a single class, the faculty and staff associated with the class, and the administrator or IT person responsible for maintaining e-reserves.
  • E-reserves for a particular class should be taken down or made inaccessible at the end of that term of the class.
  • Materials on e-reserve should contain both the copyright notice from the original material and a complete citation to he original material.
  • Digital licenses between content providers and academic institutions must be carefully reviewed to determine the extent material may be used in an e-reserve context.