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I have a physical book from an Australian publisher which is nearly a thousand pages long, so it's quite hard to carry around with me. It is a book of worked solutions for a math textbook. It has no digital version, presumably to prevent people form distributing it online.

Since it would be much more convenient for me to have a digital copy, would it be okay to scan a copy of the book to keep with me, strictly for personal use? By "okay", I am asking more about its legality than its ethicality, preferably in the US.


Although I probably intended this question to be more general, here is the information for this specific book.

There is a disclaimer related to copying in the front page of the book, which says:

Except as permitted by the Copyright Act (any fair dealing for the purposes of private study, research, criticism or review), no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher. Any enquiries are to be made to the [publishing company].

The first part of this statement seems to suggest it might be allowed for private study, which seems to be the situation I am in.

One other notice that can be found in the book, right below the above notice:

Copying for educational purposes: Where copies of part or the whole of the book are made under Part VB of the Copyright Act, the law requires that the educational institution or the body that administers it has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL). For information, contact the Copyright Agency Limited.

Part VB of the Copyright does not seem to apply to me as I am not a teacher (I am not a lawyer, either!). Is my only option in this case to contact the Copyright Agency or the publishers? I assume that if there is no resolution, I would have to try to obtain permission specifically from the publisher, which seems to be the safest option.

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    I find it kind of shocking that we even have to ask this question. Even so, adding your country tag would be necessary for accurate answers. For instance, in Germany, I think the blanket restriction on "photocopying" would be ineffective (in case anyone would want to interpret it not as one of the listed "fair dealings") as it would automatically be overruled by the right to a private copy. In other countries, very different restrictions or rules may apply. – O. R. Mapper Apr 20 '17 at 7:57
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    Just because a book has no official digital edition, that does not mean it has not been scanned and uploaded online somewhere. – 101010111100 Apr 20 '17 at 7:59
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    Nobody will know and everybody will be happy. – henning Apr 20 '17 at 8:22
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    @O.R.Mapper True enough -- I mentioned libraries because they tend to have big, fast multifunction scanners (and sometimes specialized book scanners) which make relatively short work of books. I would never want to scan a book on my home flatbed scanner (let alone a 1000-page book), and not many people have the money or space for a professional-grade scanner at home. – Pont Apr 20 '17 at 10:28
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    @user2768 I'm not assuming it; I've determined it empirically :). On a fast scanner I can definitely scan a double-page spread, flip the page, and replace the book on the glass in under ten seconds, giving >12 pages/min (though I'd need breaks for a 1000-page book). Even faster on a proper book scanner where the book is face-up and you just turn the pages. Faster still if you do what OP is planning: cut out the pages and put them in the sheet-feeder :). Whether the ebook is competitive depends on its price: >€50 is common for academic works, making the scanning option appealing in many cases. – Pont Apr 20 '17 at 14:04
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I am not a lawyer. This is a general caveat, and it is also why I don't know which copyright law applies: Australia's (where the book was published) or Germany's (where you reside). I would think Australia's, but I don't know for sure.

Under the laws of both countries it is illegal to make a full copy of a copyrighted book, but different exceptions apply. In brief: Under German and Austrian law, only manual copying is allowed. Under Australian law, you can legally scan a book that you own for your private use.

In Germany and Austria

According to the Urhebergesetz (copyright-holder law), a full copy may only be made by handwriting or -typing (§ 53 Abs. 4 Nr. 2 in Germany and § 42 (8) in Austria). This restriction also covers non-commercial personal and research purposes. An exception applies to works that have been out of print (for at least two years in Germany).

In Australia

The Copyright Act governs the reproduction of artistic, literary, dramatic, and musical works. Presumably this is an open list that includes also scientific works. The following information is taken from the official brochure "A Short Guide to Copyright Law".

In general, reproducing a copyrighted book is illegal, but there are exceptions.

There is a "fair dealing" exception for, inter alia, research purposes. Whether this exception applies depends on "the amount and substantiality of the portion copied". As a rule, several articles from a journal or one chapter from a book may be copied.

The most important exception for your case, however, is the format-shifting exception. It "allows certain types of material that a person owns to be copied into a different format for private or domestic use. For example, a book can be scanned into an electronic form".

Finally

On a pragmatic and ethical note: You bought the book, and there seems to be no ebook version that you could buy instead of scanning the book. Thus no harm is done if you scan it. As the German adage goes, "wo kein Kläger da kein Richter" (no plaintiff -- no judge).

  • Outstanding answer! Loved the last part especially. – Dan Romik Apr 20 '17 at 16:17
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    The tricker question (for Australians) is: can one, under the Copyright Act, obtain an electronic copy of dubious legality to supplement that physical copy one already bought? :-) – David Roberts Jan 28 '18 at 21:34
  • Not relevant, but perhaps interesting: in the UK a library can create an electronic version of a textbook to provide to a disabled student. – Jessica B Mar 1 '18 at 6:49
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Australian law: This matter is dealt with under Section 43C of the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth), which relates to reproducing works (that you own) for private use. Broadly speaking, this section allows you to take a book you own and make a copy in a different format (e.g., scanned pdf) for your own "private and domestic use". You can only use this for your own personal use, and you are not allowed to sell, lease or trade the copy you have created, and you cannot retain the copy if you trade the original book to another person. Read the section to get a full explanation.

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