The Public Interest

The photocopying revolution and the copyright crisis

Louise Weinberg

Winter 1975

UNTIL the 1930s in this country the ancient and necessary task of hand copying in libraries was viewed—quite properly—as beyond the scope of the copyright laws.  But with the advent of the first primitive methods of photographic reproduction, which notably enhanced the ease of interlibrary “loans” by the furnishing of copies, copyright owners manifested a degree of concern. In 1935, the National Association of Book Publishers (now defunct) met for a series of conferences with an organization representing library and educational interests, the Joint Committee on Materials for Research. The book publishers argued that, whatever the state of the law, multiple copies of entire works ought not to bo distributed without fair compensation to the copyright owner. Their view apparently prevailed and was embodied in a joint statement, which came to be variously known as the “Gentleman’s Agreement,” or the Interlibrary Loan Code of 1935. The Code, although without legal force or effect, has probably guided most large libraries in this country from that time to this. Under the Code, it was agreed that only single copies of copyrighted materials could be furnished by libraries, in lieu of loans; warnings concerning copyright violation (should further copies be made) would be given the copy recipients; and copies could be made only without profit to the libraries making them.

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