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For a library digitization project of documents published by the university, is copyright permission necessary? The library will make these documents available on the web.

The answer is yes, but it very easy to get permission if the library is a part of the university in question. In fact, the library should contact the university president or his or her designee and seek permission to put these documents on the web. Permission can be obtained for all documents with just one request. In other words, rather than seeking permission for each individual title, the library can make a single request for all documents published by the university. For state-supported universities, the documents may be copyright free based on state law, but for good campus relations, asking the president may be prudent.

A university library is interested in digitizing handbooks that the university published in order to make them available to the general public. A chapter in one of the handbooks contains the following footnote: "Reprinted and adapted from Group Leadership by Robert D. Leigh, by permission of W.W. Norton and Company, Inc. Copyright 1936 by the publishers." It is unclear whether the copyright for Group Leadership has been renewed. Assuming that the copyright in this publication has not yet expired, does the university have a duty to contact the copyright owner of the work in order to digitize the handbook?

Yes, the university should try to contact the publisher or its successor. The original rights granted did not include the digital rights. But this depends on whether the copyright was renewed, and the question indicates that renewal information is not available. The copyright in the 1936 work would have expired in 1964 and a renewal would have given it the term of life of the author plus 70 years of protection. The safest course is to contact Norton or its successor company for permission. But, even if the copyright was renewed, the university may be willing to accept the risk that the publisher of the 1936 work will not complain when the university library digitizes the handbooks and makes them available on the web. Talk with the university's counsel to help make this decision.

A liberal arts college is being asked to put digital copies of student theses on a server. If the theses contain copyrighted images, standardized tests, and the like, is permission needed? Or should access be by password only? Is there any disclaimer that the college should use if the digitized theses are posted on the web?

Whether the theses are available on the open web or on a password-protected site makes considerable difference in this situation. In the print world, for published theses and dissertations, student authors were required by the publisher to get permission to include copyrighted photographs and other materials. When the thesis or dissertation was placed only in the library collection, however, seldom did a student seek permission for incorporating copyrighted material since it was not going to be published. Posting on the web, however, is a type of publication with one differencethe college is the publisher, and a copyright holder whose works are infringed in a thesis is more likely to blame the college than the individual student for any infringement. Making theses available on a password-protected website is more akin to having the typewritten ones available only in the library. However, students and others who have the password can access the images and can download them from a thesis, so the college should make some effort to discourage downloading.

While a disclaimer on the web might make college officials feel better, it is unlikely to have any legal effect. On the other hand, a notice on a password-protected site stating that downloading images is not permitted would be useful and would demonstrate efforts to discourage infringement by authenticated users.

If the college decides that it wishes to proceed with putting theses on the web, then student authors should be charged with the responsibility of seeking permission for the use of copyrighted images and materials before web publication.

A college library has a large number of student theses in its print collection. (1) In order to digitize the collection, must the library obtain permission from the former students? (2) Is there a difference in terms of what the library can do if it makes the electronic files viewable by the college-authorized user group only versus by the entire world? (3) For pre-1923 theses, are they considered to be in the public domain and therefore could be digitized in any case? (4) Do the same answers apply to bachelor's essays or papers?

(1) Most colleges have graduate students sign a form when they begin a graduate degree agreeing to make their theses available to the library, which may use the theses for interlibrary loan. The first step is to check whether any such agreement for graduate students is required and then determine when the agreement form began to be used. Students are the authors and own the copyright in their work. If there is no agreement, then digitizing these theses requires permission of the students if the library plans to post the papers on the web. The library should get this written agreement in place for all new graduate students so that future papers can be digitized with no problem.

(2) Restricting access to digitized theses to the campus community certainly reduces the likelihood that former students will complain, but it does not change the copyright status of the work. The college may be willing to assume the risk that no student will complain, and if someone does complain, the library can then disable access to that thesis.

(3) For theses published before 1923, no problem. They are in the public domain and may be digitized with no permission. For unpublished theses produced before 1978, however, the copyright expired at the end of 2002 or life of the author plus 70 years, whichever is greater. So, the death date of the student author is critical.

(4) Whether the work is an undergraduate essay or a graduate thesis is irrelevant for copyright purposes and the above applies.

If a library has a large collection of old sheet music that is deteriorating, may it digitize the collection and make it available on the web?

The term "old sheet music" does not really define whether the music is in the public domain or is still under copyright. Assuming that it is still under copyright, then via section 108(c) of the Copyright Act, a library is permitted to reproduce deteriorating works, but only after it makes a reasonable effort to purchase another unused copy at a fair price. The library may make up to three copies of the work after this effort. One of these copies may be digital, and the library may make it available within the library but only on a library intranet. It cannot make the material available on the web without permission of the copyright owner.

 
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