MLA Position Statements and FAQs
Copyright and Fair Use Position Statement
The Medical Library Association (MLA) believes that practitioners, educators, students, and other professionals in the biomedical sciences have the right to use literature as defined in the fair use clause of the federal copyright law. MLA supports the stated purpose of copyright to promote the public welfare through the advancement of knowledge .
Health sciences librarians play a primary role in providing both print and electronic biomedical resources to those in their health-related institutions. To fulfill their role and uphold their clients' rights, librarians must understand the copyright law and its implications for users. Under the law, a library's users typically have the right to make copies of articles or chapters for their own education or research without permission. This right is especially crucial in the health professions, where the use of biomedical information and literature supports patient care, education and research.
Congress codified fair use in section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976, which allows reasonable use of a work without permission for specified purposes, including scholarship, teaching, and research.
Factors constituting fair use
To promote the advancement of knowledge, the copyright law seeks to balance the rights of the author or owner of a work and the rights of users. Four factors determine what constitutes fair use:
The Medical Library Association encourages librarians to utilize these criteria in discussion of rights and responsibilities of library users.
MLA works with other library associations and the legal system to address fair use rights which could potentially affect patient care by impairing the ability of health sciences librarians to collect and disseminate health care information to researchers, health care professionals, and scholars. In 1993, MLA and other members of the library community filed an amicus curiae (friend-of-the-court) brief in support of Texaco's appeal of a 1992 ruling that denied Texaco's researchers the right to copy scientific journal articles held by Texaco's library. MLA has also addressed the issue of fair use of printed electronic information as it relates to recent high-performance computing legislation and the National Information Infrastructure.
Fair use in the electronic media environment
The development of the National Information Infrastructure raises issues concerning the application of fair use principles to electronic information, which is not addressed in the Copyright Act of 1976. MLA works with the library community and the Copyright Office to address these issues. A separate position paper will articulate the association's position. During the interim, the association maintains the position that information published in electronic format should not be differentiated from print information. The association encourages its members to consider the four factors determining what constitutes fair use when evaluating the rights of users.
MLA maintains that the rights of users to copy materials for their own education and research is guaranteed under the fair-use clause of the copyright law. To defend this position, MLA continues to support and advocate fair-use practices and urges its members to uphold these rights by becoming familiar with the copyright law and by informing users of their rights and obligations.
Prepared November 1994 by
For more information, contact Mary Langman, 312.419.9094 x27.
Medical Library Association
Last Updated: 2007 July 13