The discussion on this page is background for deciding what
kinds of printing of the PDF file of each book are permissible under
the law and what kinds are not. I am not a lawyer and cannot
provide explicit advice on the matter. This page instead
describes some of the legal considerations that are involved.
The website of the U.S. Copyright Office is www.copyright.gov, an
overview of copyright may be found at www.copyright.gov/circs/circ01.pdf,
and the explicit discussion of the provisions of the copyright law
Roughly speaking, the owner or licensee of the copyright to a book
or other creation has the exclusive right to do certain things with
that creation. Section 106 of title 17 of the United States
Code, as amended, tells what those things are. For example,
one of those things is the exclusive right to reproduce the
copyrighted item. Section 107 and some later sections list
some exceptions, thus giving circumstances under which the copyright
holder is not the only person with the right to do those
things. Section 107 discusses "fair use," which is what is
relevant here. Fair use is discussed at the website copyright.gov/fair-use.
Unfortunately there is no concrete definition of fair use.
Instead, fair use is a notion that grew out of common law and was
enshrined in the U.S. copyright law only recently. Thus past
court decisions, especially at the level of the U.S. Supreme Court
and the circuit courts of appeals, provide a number of examples of
fair use and unfair use. In a given situation a federal court
has to decide whether or not a particular proposed exception is one
of fair use. In former times the court had to rely exclusively
on precedents, but nowadays it also has the benefit of the general
discussion of fair use in Section 107.
These matters are spelled out in a document called Circular 21,
which is available at www.copyright.gov/circs/circ21.pdf.
21 concerns parts of title 17 of the United States Code, as
amended. Section 106 of title 17 says, "Subject to sections
107 through 122, the owner of copyright under this title has the
exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following."
Then follows a list of four things. Section 107 provides that
one limitation on exclusive rights is “fair use.” “The fair
use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in
copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that
section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting,
teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship,
or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In
determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is
a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:
For the notion of fair use in an educational setting, Circular 21
provides more specific guidelines. Apparently these guidelines
represent a truce establishing for educational institutions an area
of permitted activity and an area of forbidden activity. I
shall not attempt to summarize these guidelines, but they are worth
- the purpose and character of the use, including whether such
use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational
- the nature of the copyrighted work;
- the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation
to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
- the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value
of the copyrighted work."
The website of the copyright office includes also a list of
summaries of relevant court decisions. This list is accessed
is helpful to narrow the search, and one way to do that is to select
only “Education/Scholarship/Research" as the category of decisions
to search through. One then gets summaries of approximately 46
decisions, most of them resulting in a finding of "fair use found"
or else "fair use not found." Reading some of the details of
these gives one the flavor of borderline questions of fair use and
the kind of reasoning that courts employ to decide such borderline
Last modified: 1/4/2016