Copyright Exception: Reproduction by Libraries and Archives - 17 USC 108
Section 108 of the Copyright Act is a limitation on the copyright holder's rights built into the copyright law. It grants libraries and archives special copying privileges in light of the important role libraries and archives play for education, scholarship, preservation of knowledge, and to society in general. These legal privileges are governed by a highly complex set of factors and practices. Section 108 provides for copying by "qualified" libraries for interlibrary loan and preservation purposes, for example. A qualified library (as defined in the law) may send portions of works to other qualified libraries provided the "aggregate quantity" does not replace a purchase or subscription of the work. The law does not define how much can be copied from a particular work.
Section 108 gives us some important flexibility as a library. For example, we can help you to borrow works from other libraries through interlibrary loan. For items we are unable to borrow, we can often get you portions of those works. For works in our collection, we can also provide copies of limited portions of those works - or we can get our copy of that work into your hands in most cases. These are important services we provide as your library in support of education, research, and scholarship.
Technology changes faster than the law. The library provisions in the Copyright Act of 1976 were concerned mostly with photocopying. In 1978, a commission of libraries, publishers, and others was charged to develop guidelines to help interpret Section 108 in a practical way. The result was the CONTU guidelines, named for the National Commission on New Technological Uses of Copyrighted Works. Many libraries, archives, publishers and authors follow these guidelines as common practice even though they are not the law, but conservative guidance.
Efforts in the 1990's such as the Conference on Fair Use sought to update practices in light of new technologies without success. More recently, the Library of Congress and the US Copyright Office appointed a group of experts to propose possible updates to the law resulting in the Section 108 Study Group report (PDF).