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Fair Use Question Of The Month: Copying a VHS to a DVD for Educational Purposes

February's Fair Use Question of the Month comes from a university librarian who has been asked by a proessor to copy a VHS to a DVD.


Dear Center for Social Media,

I'm a university librarian and a teacher has asked me to copy a VHS tape to DVD. We no longer have VHS players in our classrooms. I've looked around for a DVD version to buy, but it looks like the distributor's gone out of business. I don't want to put my library at risk, but the teacher says she really needs this material. Where can I (and the teacher!) go for some guidance?



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Thanks for your question. Principle Three of the Code of Best Practices in Academic and Research Libraries gives guidance on when such copying would be a fair use on an item-by-item basis. Principle Three does say that fair use will allow copying a particular work from VHS to DVD in appropriate circumstances. As always, you need to be able to explain why you think fair use is being employed.

In this principle, the Code interprets fair use according to the needs of academic and research librarians faced with the challenge of both preserving and providing access to materials in fragile and difficult to access formats. It explains that copying with this goal is a legitimate exercise of fair use where no commercial copy is available at a reasonable cost, where the use is restricted to the library’s patron community, and where the library doesn’t circulate both the copy and original at the same time.

You and the teacher can both read the principle, and make sure that your use is within the fair use rationale. If so, your risk sinks to a level that should not concern you; most of your decisions in the day require making some risk calculation that balances meeting mission with taking risk. If you want to go an extra mile or two, “enhancements” to the Principle describe a few ways that librarians can take further measures in deference to rights holders and their concerns about format shifting, though these measures are not required for a strong fair use claim.

For more information, check out our Introduction to Fair Use Video, a list of Fair Use FAQs for Librarians, Professors, and Students, and Slideshow presentations on Fair Use for both Librarians and Students. Good luck!