For an e-mail reference question, may a reference librarian copy and paste something from an online database into the response to the user?

The answer to this question is found in the license agreement that the library signed with the database vendor. If the reference question comes from an affiliated user who is covered under the license agreement, then providing that patron with material from that database is permitted by cutting and pasting the material into the e-mail answer to the reference question. If the inquiry comes from an outside patron who is not covered under the library's license agreement with the database vendor, then cutting and pasting would violate the terms of the license. The license agreement could contain a provision that permits use of material from the database for responding to reference questions. Thus, under this condition, it would not be a violation of the license agreement to include material in any response to an e-mail reference question. The answer to all of these questions is found in the license agreement itself, however.

An academic medical library is often asked to provide access to full-text journals to other libraries located in federal buildings on its campus. The full-text journals are free to the library with print subscriptions. Is it a copyright violation to provide such access?

This is not a copyright violation, but whether there is some type of liability for the library depends on the license. License agreements are contracts governed by state contract law instead of federal copyright. If a license for the online journals says that access is restricted to the school's students, faculty, and staff, then it violates the contract to allow the federal employees to access the electronic version of the materials. If not, then it is permissible, but each license agreement should be consulted for that title or group of titles. Providing these users with copies made from the print journals would be permitted under sections 108 (d) and (e) of the Copyright Act if the requirements of those sections are met.

A library has subscriptions to periodicals databases (e.g., Wilson and ProQuest), and all of the university's satellite locations also have access to them. The university is now opening a new satellite location in a foreign country. Will the university be in compliance with the database licensing agreement if students in the new satellite location overseas are given access to the databases?

The answer depends on the license agreement itself. Does the library have separate license agreements for each satellite location, or is there one license that covers the university's main campus and all satellite campuses? The language of the contract controls. The contract could state that access is limited to students of the university and be silent about the location of those students. This would mean that any enrolled student, regardless of the branch or satellite the student attends, is covered under the agreement. Or the license might state that it covers only the main campus or the main campus and its satellites in a particular state or country. As a rule of thumb, if the license agreement does not contain any geographical restriction, one should assume that it is worldwide in geography but limited to enrolled students, faculty, and staff of the university.

A U.S. academic institution sponsors a study abroad program taught by its faculty and staff. The students are U.S. students who are studying in foreign countries, and some courses are offered online from the home institution. Students access databases from the home institution. Does operating in a foreign country make any difference? What if there are a few foreign nationals enrolled in the U.S. study abroad program?

The good news is that U.S. law applies to students enrolled in the U.S. institution's study abroad program. Typically, enrolled students who access licensed databases from the U.S. institution are covered under the license agreement for that college or university. This is true whether the students are U.S. nationals or not. In future license negotiations, however, it would be a good idea to clarify that study abroad students enrolled in the U.S. institution's foreign study programs are included in the license.

A hospital parent company has acquired electronic access to full-text medical journals from Ovid, MD Consult, and others for employees and physicians on the medical staff of the hospitals. The library has purchased print copies of many of the same journals from the publishers. If often receives a request from a physician for copies of articles, sometimes two to three per issue, from these journal titles. (1) Does the license agreement for electronic access to the journal trump the statute that restricts the library to providing only one article per journal issue to that physician? (2) If the physician (or a member of the physician's staff) infringes copyright, who is liable?

(1) Yes. An employee covered by the license agreement who prints the articles from the electronic version is bound by the terms of the license agreement, and most such licenses do not contain a restriction about the number of articles per issue. The Copyright Act section 108(d) exception has the "one article per issue to a user" restriction on a library for reproduction and distribution because it covers instances when there is neither permission nor a license from the publisher.

(2) The hospital is liable because of agency law since the physician is an employee. However, if the license does not restrict the number of articles per issue that can be printed, then there is no problem. A publisher could sue an individual physician, but is unlikely to do so. In most instances, publishers opt instead to sue the larger institution. If it does, then the licensee institution is liable and not the individual physician. The institution could then take disciplinary action against the individual infringer, of course.

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