March 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

A Common Cover-up | Carrie on Copyright

Is it really legit for libraries to make copies of DVD covers?

We’d like to display our DVDs—just the cases, not the contents. Can we make copies of the original covers (which have the bar codes) to circulate along with the actual discs?

—Susan Clayton, assistant county librarian
Lake County Library, Lakeport, CA

Yes, it’s fine to make copies of the covers. There are two key reasons why your use is a fair one: the library purchased the DVDs for nonprofit, educational purposes, and your copies will not have a negative effect on the works’ sales.

It just so happens that I was lurking on the Video Round Table discussion group when a similar question came up: Can copies of DVD covers be posted on a library’s Web site? While film vendors can’t determine for you whether a use is fair or not (that’s something you must do), those who responded to the question agreed that the use was fair and, in fact, thought it was a good way to promote films.

Our school has a small number of visually impaired students who are learning to read Braille. Would it violate the copyright law if we made audiotapes of our Braille books so students can follow along as they practice reading? Only those students who are learning Braille would have access to the books and recordings.

Also, Section 121 of the copyright law permits “an authorized entity to reproduce or to distribute copies or phonorecords of a previously published, nondramatic literary work if such copies or phonorecords are reproduced or distributed in specialized formats exclusively for use by blind or other persons with disabilities.” Are elementary schools “authorized entities”? And is an audiocassette a “specialized” format?

—Mary Kirk, media coordinator
Sherwood Forest Elementary School, Winston-Salem, NC

Section 121, also known as “the Chafee amendment” (for Senator John Chafee who introduced the legislation), is more exacting than it sounds—and it doesn’t allow elementary schools to make audio recordings. But the Library of Congress’s National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS)—whose primary purpose is to serve those who are blind or physically disabled—offers audiocassettes as part of its Talking Books program. NLS has regional libraries throughout the country. To find the closest one, visit its Web site at