Theresa over at Knitting Underway has been wanting to make the St. Brigid sweater from Alice Starmore’s Aran Knitting for some time. The problem? The book is out of print and used copies cost about $250. Luckily for Theresa, she was able to come by a copy through her local library’s interlibrary loan service and make a copy of the patterns she liked. Theresa was able to take advantage of fair use to get the patterns she needed.
Fair use is a concept of copyright law designed to allow comment, criticism or parody. It also applies to an individuals ability to use a work for personal study.
When a book is part of a “public archive” like a library, it’s acceptable to copy a small portion of it for your own personal use. When, however, the book is out of print and not available at a “reasonable” price, then it can be acceptable to make a reproduction of the entire work, provided, again, that the copy is only for your own, personal use.
There’s a nice, clear article on the Stanford University web site that goes into much more detail about libraries and fair use. Here’s a short excerpt:
Copying a complete work from the library collection is prohibited unless the work is not available at a “fair price.” This is generally the case when the work is out of print and used copies are not available at a reasonable price. If a work, located within the library’s collection, is available at a reasonable price, the library may reproduce one article or other contribution to a copyrighted collection or periodical issue, or a small part of any other copyrighted work, for example, a chapter from a book. This right to copy does not apply if the library is aware that the copying of a work (available at a fair price) is systematic. For example, if 30 different members of one class are requesting a copy of the same article, the library has reason to believe that the instructor is trying to avoid seeking permission for 30 copies.