I received the following question last week pertaining to copyright and audio recordings of full length books:

I want to write a grant to have my 3rd graders record podcasts of some of our library’s picture books for our K, 1, 2 kids to listen to from home. I’d post them on our website on Podcast People. Would that be against copyright laws if we put them on a website? I’d appreciate any thoughts you have on this.

I need to start this response with my typical disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer– for formal legal advice you do need to consult a lawyer licensed to practice in your local jurisdiction. That being said, however, here are some thoughts which build on my presentation “Copyright, Fair Use, and Intellectual Property for Educators” which I have shared several times in the past few years.

I would NOT encourage you to publish full length audio readings/recordings of copyrighted books on your library’s public website WITHOUT the explicit permission of each book publisher. Fair use laws along with the TEACH Act in the United States do provide educators and students with more legal ways to use and reuse content when such use is limited in its scope and potential market impact, but whenever you are talking about publishing content on the open/public web for anyone to download you have to be very careful.

According to Section 107 of the 1976 Copyright Act in the United States, the fourth factor which must be examined when seeking to determine if a use of copyrighted material qualifies as “fair use” is:

The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

In the situation you describe, by publishing full audio-book versions of existing published books, you would be potentially undercutting the commercial sale of those audiobooks by the publisher who owns the copyright. For this reason, as I previously stated, I would NOT recommend publishing any audiobook versions on the open/public web without the explicit permission of each book publisher. If you can get explicit permission from each publisher to do what you want in your project, by all means move forward. I do not think you could reasonably expect that your re-publication of picture books as audiobooks qualifies as “fair use” however and could be done legally without publisher permission.

If you do create audiobook versions of printed books for your students, to provide needed IEP accommodations or for other reasons, it is my understanding that you are required (under U.S fair use provisions of copyright law) to restrict access to those created audiobooks. For example, you could have those audiobooks available on an Intranet website which is only available to teachers and students within your school district. It would be very important in that case, however, to take steps to inform users of their “limited use rights” of those audiobooks. Teachers and students would NOT have permission or the legal right to take one or more of those in-house audiobooks and republish it on their own website or another website that is publicly available.

Rather than focus your grant on creating audiobook versions of printed books, I would encourage you to help students and teachers participate in a book-related digital storytelling project like “Great Book Stories.” In that case, students are providing summaries and reviews of favorite books and using only limited excerpts from books, which complies with fair use provisions of U.S. copyright law. You also might consider having students create and publish their OWN books for which they would own the copyright and therefore be legally able (with parent permission) to publish various forms of their books online.

For additional information and guidance on these issues, in addition to referring you to the presentation link already cited, I’d direct you to Temple University’s Media Education Lab resources on Copyright and Fair Use.

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