Misconceptions of Fair Use Part 2 - But it is for Educational Purposes

July 23, 2017


So, you have signed up for a class and must purchase a textbook. Textbooks can be expensive, and students and some textbook companies have come up with a couple different ways to make the costs of textbooks cheaper. They now offer options such as renting the textbook through the university bookstore or Amazon, buying the loose-leaf version where you can bind it yourself, or you can even get the electronic version.


You picked the electronic version because it was the best option.  It was one of the cheaper options.  You can carry it with you everywhere on your tablet or phone, and it was an immediate download.  There are some downsides to the e-book version of textbooks, sometime the page numbering is off, it could be hard to place notes in the margins like you can with the physical book, or it could just be a real strain on your eyes. So, you decided to print out the textbook to make things easier, and because there are over 200 pages in the textbook you take it to your local OfficeMax/Office Depot to have it printed. However, they take one look at the

e-book and they tell you, “Sorry, I can’t print this because it is copyrighted”. You are shocked, you know you only purchased the right to the book in its e-book format, but isn’t the printing covered under the educational purposes factor of fair use?


Like all things concerning law, it depends. So, I have mentioned in the previous blog post about the misconceptions of fair use.  There are a couple of major caveats when it comes to the fair use doctrine of copyrights. This is specifically true for the educational purposes factor in fair use. It is true that educational purposes are a major factor in fair use and can often be the deciding factor in determining fair use. Public policy wise, it is better for the public good to have access to and use of books, articles, artwork, and other documents that fall under copyright.


However, this is not a free pass to print anything and everything under the pretense of educational purposes. Even for educational purposes, you cannot copy the whole book. The amount that is being copied plays a big role in determining if the educational purpose factor of fair use will apply to you. One can print a small article, short poems, an excerpt from a novel or textbook, easily if it is for educational purposes, i.e. you need it for a paper, homework, or a presentation.  A whole textbook is too much, specifically because it could deter people from making textbooks, novels, and other larger works of art and literature if all it took for someone to get a free copy is claim educational purposes. An exception to this is if the person seeking a copy is a teacher, and it is just one copy for the teacher and the classroom. If it is only one copy for a whole classroom, it is more likely to be viewed as being used for educational purposes.


Now this concept of educational purposes does not just apply to textbooks, it applies to workbooks, compilation novels, how to guides, and sheet music for band. If the copying is still limited, a person may be able to copy without facing consequences for copyright infringement. Especially if they are the instructor and it is for classroom purposes. If you are concerned that someone is abusing the educational purposes factor of fair use when it comes to your copyrighted work, then consult an attorney. This applies if you are concerned about breaching the limits of fair use in your classroom or project.


The educational purposes factor of fair use is a broad factor but it has its reasonable limits. Please keep this in mind when designing a class curriculum, or even when you are trying to decide which format of the textbook you should get.


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