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As a Canadian undergraduate student, I have access to all Springer books on their website, provided that I log in with my institutional account. Springer books can be downloaded as PDF files.

Because I prefer physical copies of academic titles for reading convenience, I want to print the entire PDF file of a Springer book that I'm interested in.

Is it legal to do this?

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    Have you read the terms of use? May 8 at 23:20
  • IANAL but in general if you aren't depriving them of revenue you aren't doing anything wrong, as there is no tort for them to action.
    – user207421
    May 9 at 1:39
  • @ScottSeidman are terms of use usually relevant? do they not normally ask you to refrain from doing things that are actually perfectly legal?
    – user253751
    May 9 at 11:04
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    @user207421: But the answer to "Are they denying revenue to Springer?" is not clear. Is the answer "No, because the alternative to printing the book is just to read it online." or is the answer "Yes, because the alternative to printing the book is buying a physical copy of the book."?
    – James
    May 9 at 12:33
  • @user253751 What is "perfectly legal" from a civil sense can depend entirely on the contract you are under; of course, the enforcement of contracts imposed by website terms and conditions is an active area of legal dispute.
    – Bryan Krause
    May 9 at 17:51

3 Answers 3

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Fair dealing addresses exceptions to activity that would otherwise be copyright infringement, similar to "fair use" in the US.

I'm not a lawyer, and don't live in Canada, but it seems to me that the exceptions for private study would cover making a physical copy of a work you otherwise have access to. Some other reading:

https://www.lib.sfu.ca/help/academic-integrity/copyright/fair-dealing

https://www.ualberta.ca/faculty-and-staff/copyright/intro-to-copyright-law/fair-dealing/index.html

https://uwaterloo.ca/copyright-at-waterloo/faq-1-5

However, I think it is far more likely that you'd be infringing the terms and conditions of the website that you use to access the digital resources; even if you aren't infringing copyright, you could be violating something you've agreed to by using the site. If it's prohibited by the terms, you'll have to weigh the value of the physical copy against the risk that those terms are enforceable and the publisher chooses to enforce them.

I don't know what terms that apply to you specifically through the access you have through your institution, but on Springer's site I see this at https://link.springer.com/termsandconditions ...

1.2 You may solely for private, educational, personal, scientific, or research purposes access, browse, view, display, search, download and print the Content.

So, assuming those are the terms that you use the site under, it seems like they're explicitly giving you permission to print for your own use.

I would also consider that there may be existing physical copies in your vicinity, such as at your institution's physical library or a public library in your city. Using those resources, if the particular book you want is available, would save you the costs of printing and waste produced.

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    +1 Good find on the terms of use! I would expect that one's license to access the content would end when your user account gets terminated at the end of one's studies, but I can't find an explicit passage describing this in the linked ToS. May 9 at 5:07
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    @DavidMulder Yeah, I also didn't find that, though admittedly I did not crawl through all the terms with a fine comb (who ever does?); that's one of the reasons that I wonder if OP's access (which I gather is part of some institutional subscription through their university library?) might have some additional limiting terms.
    – Bryan Krause
    May 9 at 17:46
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This will differ a bit from the good answer of Bryan Krause. I won't repeat what he says. And IANAL, so this is informal advice only.

There is one advantage of a printed copy in that you can easily annotate it by writing in the margins. There are electronic versions of this for PDFs, but I find them inconvenient at best.

Also, some systems make it difficult to read PDFs without actually downloading them to your own system. So, prohibiting downloads seems to be a lost cause.

But, if you are printing only for your own personal use and not for distribution, then, since you have been give access to the content itself, the medium you use to read it is of less (but not zero) concern.

The reason for this answer, however, is to point out a general principle of the law, observed many (most? all?) places and that is that "The Law does not concern itself with trifles."

Your personal use of a printed copy doesn't lessen the value of the material to the publisher, since you already have permission for the material itself.

So, I'd wager that any infraction would be so minuscule that no legal authority would think it worth any effort to stop it. This assumes a single copy for personal use when permission to use the material has already been granted.

Laws differ everywhere, of course, but here is some information specific to Canada.

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    And, some 40 years on, I still use several textbooks from my undergraduate days. Upper division classes, sure, but Ashcroft and Mermin, Sze, and Landau and Lifshitz are true classics.
    – Jon Custer
    May 7 at 15:01
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    "The Law does not concern itself with trifles" is, unfortunately, much more likely to be true for people with privilege (thus not for racialized minorities, for example). Laws that are enforced only at the discretion of individual (biased) human beings always exacerbates oppression. May 8 at 8:26
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    Re Laws differ everywhere, of course, but here is some information specific to Canada. That info appears to be missing from your answer. May 9 at 11:07
  • So Fermat noted in about 1637. But if you print single sided you have some room to expand thoughts of course. And often an asterisk next to a paragraph is enough for your purposes.
    – Buffy
    May 9 at 13:58
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Ask them.

Is it legal to do this?

Who else would be able to sate definitively (apart from a judge) that this is allowed or not, except the copyright holders?

Now maybe you don't want to draw Springer's attention to yourself, so maybe you could ask the college to ask as a general rule. However, they're probably more likely to say "yes" to a single student than to a college. But one way or another, they are the people to ask. The Internet can't really give you a definitive answer.

An alternative

Ask the college library (by email so you have proof) if you can do this. They might be very conservative about this, as they will be keen to avoid crossing Springer (or other copyright holders), but they may also be able to give you a statement of what you can and cannot do according to their agreement with them.

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    The copyright holder can be expected to answer "We prohibit you to do this" even in the cases where it's legal to do so without their permission and it does not matter if they prohibit it or not. They are not an unbiased party from which you can expect a truthful answer that is in your interests; they are not required to tell you if some legal clause grants you more rights than they wish you to have, and it is in their interests to advocate to the public that they have less fair use rights than they actually do.
    – Peteris
    May 8 at 7:21
  • @Peteris That's a very cynical viewpoint. It's also a rationale for doing whatever you want to regardless of what restrictions may apply as, in your viewpoint, you can just ignore the rights holder if you're afraid they might assert rights - that's where your argument leads. May 8 at 11:16
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    Quite the contrary, I'm asserting that certain copyright holders (of whom Springer in particular is a notorious example) have a habit of doing whatever they want to regardless of what restrictions apply to their copyright and is afraid that the public might assert the fair use rights they have in copyright law. Copyright law is inherently a compromise between the conflicting wishes of copyright holders and the general public, and the (many!) limitations the law makes to the copyright exclusivity are there for a good reason, even if rightsholders want to ignore the rights that the public has.
    – Peteris
    May 8 at 15:13

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