Brown University Copyright and Fair Use

Brown University

Rules and permissions for digital materials

Different kinds of digital materials

Although the Web is designed to offer a seamless network of information, where copyright is concerned not all information can be treated the same way. All Brown users should be aware of the important distinctions that affect what you may use and how you may use it. There are four significant categories of digital information available through the web to Brown users:

  • Web pages and resources which are published free of charge for anyone to use. Although these are freely accessible, they are usually still covered by copyright. You may read them, use them, and cite in your classes and research, but you should ask permission before making copies of any substantial portion (beyond what would be covered by fair use), or reusing materials in a publication or digital resource of your own.
  • Web pages and resources which are published and made available for a fee. Brown's Library spends a substantial amount each year to license many of these resources, including reference databases, online journals, and digital archives of primary sources. They are listed at the Library web site. Your use of these resources is governed by the licenses Brown signs, and may be more restricted than the case above. For more details on digitally licensed resources, see below.
  • Digital resources created at Brown. The primary group at Brown University engaged in creating digital resources is the Library's Center for Digital Scholarship. These resources are freely available to the Brown community. Moreover, since most of these resources are based on materials in the public domain, you may be able to use them in a wider range of ways than are typically permitted. However, you should still request permission before doing so.
  • Government documents. Most federal government documents are in the public domain and may be freely quoted, reused, and downloaded. Most foreign government documents as well as documents produced by states and most intergoverntal agencies (UN, IMF...) are not in the public domain.
How do Brown's licenses work?

All digital materials purchased by Brown University are controlled by license agreements between the University and the publisher. These licenses govern what Brown users may do with these materials, and they impose specific restrictions that may go beyond the provisions of copyright law. Among other things, these licenses typically control:

  • who may copy and distribute the data
  • what kind of copies, and how many, may be made, and how those copies may be used
  • whether and how data may be used for interlibrary loan or course reserves

In signing these licenses, Brown warrants that all of its users will abide by these rules; if they do not, the publisher may terminate access to the resource, or, if Brown is aware that users are misusing the materials and does not prevent such improper use, Brown may be sued. All Brown users are bound by the terms of these licenses. We summarize their most important and frequent provisions below. Copies of individual licenses will be available through the library soon.

"Shrink Wrap" and Click-through Licenses

Some types of license specify that the end user must explicitly agree to the terms of the license before using the licensed product, and they state that the act of entering the resource or opening the package constitutes an agreement. For "shrink-wrapped" licenses (usually used for software), unwrapping the package signals acceptance of the license terms. "Click-through" licenses are more usual with online resources, and these require the user to read and accept a set of license terms before gaining access to the resource.

What Conditions Do Licenses Control?

The Library License Working Group looks at the terms of all agreements, and negotiates any changes with the publisher. Licenses for digital products are usually fairly detailed, but the provisions that most directly affect the user are as follows:

  1. Authorized Users: Every license defines who is permitted to use the product. Most licenses for universities cover all potential categories of users such as faculty, graduate students, undergraduates and staff. Brown also negotiates coverage for off-campus users, walk-in users (i.e. people using the library temporarily) and affiliated faculty or researchers. Licenses also require the Library to make reasonable efforts to ensure that people who are not covered by the license do not use the resource. For this reason, the University uses sign-on procedures at computer clusters. Some licenses may also limit use to specific locations on campus or within the library.
  2. Interlibrary Loan Provisions: All licenses with libraries customarily describe the conditions under which libraries can send information from databases, electronic books or electronic journals via interlibrary loan. Some provisions may restrict a library to sending the paper copy via interlibrary loan rather than electronic versions. Other licenses may specify how it can be transmitted. For example, Ariel is an electronic form of a fax and in some licenses can be used despite restrictions against electronic transmittal. Some licenses cite compliance with the Copyright Act, Section 108 which has provisions for Interlibrary Loan.
  3. Electronic Reserve and Course Pack Provisions: Some licenses have provisions for use of materials in course reserves. For example, one license indicates that the Library "may store in electronic format in secure electronic data files a reasonable portion of the licensed materials for use in connection with specific courses of instruction." Some licenses also have provisions for using the electronic materials for the preparation of "course packs."
  4. Copy Conditions: Almost all licenses indicate what types of copies are permitted. Some contracts specify whether the copies can be digital or paper. Most licenses restrict copying to a "reasonable portion" of articles. Many licenses also add wording which allows use of materials consistent with Fair Use. In many licenses, there is also the wording that copies may be made for "scholarly research, educational and personal use."
  5. Use Restrictions: Most licenses do not allow reuse of material from the licensed resource or creation of derivative works without prior written permission, and they also typically restrict any reuse that they do allow to non-commercial purposes. They do not permit removal of the copyright notice. They also forbid systematic downloading.

The accompanying chart will summarize the provisions of the contract noted above.