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Is it legal to purchase a book, scan it and save it to my computer? What if I post the text book for others to read?

Long Beach, CA |

I am the founder of a non profit organization. I assist college students that cannot afford text books by granting them access to text books online for free. I bought a book, I scanned it and I posted it on my website for the college students to be able to access it. Is this legal? Since I am a non profit organization and using the book for education purposes? Or do I need to contact the publisher/author and ask for permission to scan and post their book on my website? A response is greatly appreciated.

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Attorney answers 4

Best Answer

It is interesting that you are asking now about this process.
You are making a copy of someone else's copyrighted work. Your defense would be "fair use," meaning that you want to claim that you are fairly using someone else's work. The fair use defense is found at 17 USC 107, which provides for four factors in determining whether a use of someone else's work would be considered "fair."
The third and fourth factors are the most important here. The third is "the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole." From your description, you are copying all or substantially of the original work. This is a strike against your side.
The fourth factor is "the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work." If you are producing enough of the copyrighted work that someone short on money can use your copy and not have to need to buy the original, then this is a huge strike against you, and is probably sufficient to make your fair use argument lose.
The problem of expensive textbooks is a real one, but the answer isn't to copy whole textbooks. The answer is to develop cheaper alternatives. Textbook publishers have to license portions of their works from others, and need the money from sales to pay those licenses. Providing their works for free will harm, not help, the goal of a low-cost, quality education. 510-208-5500. This answer does not create an attorney-client relationship. It is not legal advice, because it is only of a general nature. Please contact a lawyer qualified in your jurisdiction to discuss your situation in confidence, using your factual details. Avvo answers are only general legal responses. Item 9 of's Terms and Conditions are incorporated in this disclaimer as though it were printed here.

Molly Cristin Hansen

Molly Cristin Hansen


Asker, I just want to add that having been granted non-profit status means you need to be extra careful with how you accomplish your goals. When you violate the law, you put not only yourself but your organization (and its tax-exempt status) at risk -- which is not good for anyone.


It is not legal for you to post a text book on your website for other students to use without the permission of the copyright holder (which may be the author, the publisher, or someone completely different). You would need to contact the copyright holder and get their permission to place the textbook on your site, although it is unlikely the copyright holder will grant you permission as it would cut into their sales. In addition, sending the digitized copy to other individuals (even if not posted on the website) would be illegal and could get you in major trouble, even if they are friends in your class.

In terms of you scanning it in to your computer, it is a little harder to determine. Technically, this would be copyright infringement as you are not allowed to make additional copies of the book. On the other hand, the chances of the copyright holder coming after you if you only use the digitized copy for your own use and you keep possession of the original book are pretty low. If you do decide to sell the original book you would want to make sure to delete the digitized copy as you would be infringing the copyright holder's rights and they would be more likely to come after you in the case that more than one individual reaped the benefit of just one sale.

Answering of your question is merely general advice and does not constitute legal advice. None of the statements or implications made by this answer creates an attorney-client relationship with the attorney answering the question. The statements made in this answer are not to be solely relied upon and you should meet with a competent attorney to discuss any concerns you may have regarding this answer.


What you propose is illegal.
The first sale doctrine only allows you to sell the book you bought. You may not scan it, post it, or do any transformative work, all of which will considered be copyright infringement.
The fair use exception is very limited and you can use a few very relevant pages at most, certainly not a full chapter. talk with a copyright attorney as review the details.

USPTO Registered Patent Attorney, Master of Intellectual Property law, MBA I am neither your attorney, nor my answers or comments in create an attorney-client relationship with you. You may accept or disregard my free advice in at your own risk. I am a Patent Attorney, admitted to the USPTO and to the Florida Bar.


It is not legal. Scanning the book will most likely be considered reproduction or copying of the book and therefore it needs to be authorized by the owner of the copyright in the book. You will need to obtain permission from the copyright owner to scan and post the book on your website.

The answer to this question is for general purposes only and does not form an attorney-client relationship.

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