or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Copyright Warning Bookmark

   June 17th, 2010

Copying a DVDWe had sort of an odd situation in my library a little while ago - the story is a bit long, so please bear with me:

As circ staff were checking returned items back in, they found a DVD case with no disc in it (not unusual). They called and left a message for the patron to check their DVD player and please return the missing disc.

The patron called back after we were closed, left a message that she returned the wrong case, and asked we call her at work the next day.

What? Wrong case?

When our Head of Circulation called her the next day, the work number the patron gave was for a video reproduction company(!). When she finally spoke with the patron, the patron told her that she had the disc and the library's case, and the one she returned (accidentally) was a color photocopy she'd made of the DVD jacket (which it was, and confirmed in that the barcode and other stickers were no longer stickers).

This set off debate amongst the department heads in my library. It seems, clearly, that this patron worked at a video reproduction company that was checking out DVDs from the library and not just ripping the DVDs, but creating reproductions of the cases too - to who knows what end. Even if they're not mass reproducing them for sale, this activity is still illegal.

But, we have no actual proof of DVD copying, just speculation (maybe she just liked the DVD jacket?), and it'd be a major step to accuse a patron of this or to notify the police (or FBI?). So after some debate, we decided the library's role is to:

  • make information and materials available to the public, and
  • make the public aware of the copyright limitations of library materials

Our logic is that we can't police patrons and force them to follow intellectual property laws, but it is our responsibility to make sure they are informed of those laws.

To do that, we wanted to make a small handout or bookmark that informed patrons of copyright restrictions, but I wasn't sure exactly where to begin. I had bookmarked a Columbus Dispatch article entitled "Copying library CD? You just broke the law" awhile ago because of something I'd heard of going on at another library* and that article mentioned Carrie Russell, a copyright specialist for the American Library Association.

I found her ALA contact information, sent her an email explaining our situation and asking if she had concise wording we could use for a short copyright handout. Her response was hands-down the quickest (next day!) and most helpful reply I've ever gotten from someone at the ALA:


I usually suggest that the library suspend the patron's borrowing privileges when it is clear they are infringing.

You can use language from the CFR to craft a letter. This is the language that libraries should use when lending software, but you can use it for this situation too.

Notice: Warning of Copyright Restrictions The copyright law of the United States (title 17, United States Code) governs the reproduction, distribution, adaptation, public performance, and public display of copyrighted material. Under certain conditions specified in law, nonprofit libraries are authorized to lend, lease, or rent copies of computer programs to patrons on a nonprofit basis and for nonprofit purposes. Any person who makes an unauthorized copy or adaptation of the computer program, or redistributes the loan copy, or publicly performs or displays the computer program, except as permitted by title 17 of the United States Code, may be liable for copyright infringement. This institution reserves the right to refuse to fulfill a loan request if, in its judgment, fulfillment of the request would lead to violation of the copyright law. (37 C.F.R. 201.24)

Hope this helps.

Some of us liked the idea of suspending the patron's borrowing privileges (at least temporarily), but we decided against that as a first step. From the wording Carrie sent, I created the following copyright notice brochure (changing references to "computer programs" to be inclusive of all library material). These bookmarks are kept at the Circ Desk and given to those patrons we suspect need the information most.

Feel free to edit and use this for your own library, and let me know if you can recommend any improvements. I was going for "fewer words = more likely to be read" but didn't quite get there.


*Another long story, for another time. In the meantime, here's a Video Pirates clip that's worth watching.

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11 Responses to “Copyright Warning Bookmark”

  1. Michael Sauers Says:

    “I usually suggest that the library suspend the patron’s borrowing privileges when it is clear they are infringing.”

    Wait, what! WTF! OK, this is just reading as seriously wrong to me. I’m going to need some time to process this suggestion.

    First thought, ok then, suspend everyone who uses the photocopiers.

  2. laura k Says:

    It might also make sense to print a small business card-sized copyright warning to put into DVD cases when you check them out, although that might be too much of a major pain in the arse.

  3. sharon Says:

    Thanks for this, Brian. I’m thinking maybe a sticker that we’d put on the inside of every CD and DVD case as they came in. I know for sure that we have people ripping the music CDs–one patron even asked me to show her how to do it. I don’t think we have anyone making copies of DVDs yet, but it’s just a matter of time. We’re a small rural library and everyone knows everyone else, so I’ve not kicked up a fuss about this yet but, darn it, it is illegal.

  4. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Michael: I think the “when it’s clear they are infringing part” is essential. Fair use and photocopiers are no problem, but someone who is actually breaking the law by copying DVDs (and their cases) is entirely different. I don’t like the idea of turning someone into the police, so a temporary suspension of library privileges is a good way to get their attention and let them know that what they’re doing is illegal. By not doing anything, the library might be leaving itself open to being sued, too. But all of these steps are dramatic, and unless we have concrete proof, we’re going to err on the side of openness and customer service.

    @laura k: I like the business card idea – I might even try to talk Tech Services into printing a warning on business card-sized labels and stick inside the case like @sharon – either way, having it right there with the DVD is better that a separate (and longer) handout.

  5. sharon Says:

    @Michael, I had a patron check out about 20 music CDs a few weeks ago. I handed him his receipt, saying, “Those are all due back on {4 weeks from today}. “Oh,” says he, “if all goes well I’ll have them back to you tomorrow.” It’s very blatant, and I have to cling to the belief that they just don’t know that it’s illegal copying.

  6. Jane Says:

    This is such good timing. Yesterday I discovered a young man (who has been using our wireless free of charge all summer and does not have a library card with us!) copying library audiobooks to his computer. I was just so surprised at the moment that I couldn’t come up with much to say. Now I am armed and dangerous. I wonder if he will have the nerve to come back.

  7. Steve Says:

    Our library has a small sticker behind the disc of every audio cd that reads something like:
    “WARNING! The library is not responsible for any damage to your computer that may be a result of copying the contents of this disc.”

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