This page provides a very general overview of what you need to do to comply with U.S. copyright law regarding interlibrary loan borrowing on behalf of library users. Be sure to consult with your organization's legal counsel for any questions about copyright and your library and about any existing policies.

A "Warning Concerning Copyright Restrictions" sign should be prominently posted wherever you accept interlibrary loan requests and on interlibrary loan request forms:

Notice Warning Concerning Copyright Restrictions

The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material.

Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or other reproduction. One of these specified conditions is that the photocopy or reproduction is not to be "used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research." If a user makes a request for, or later uses, a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in excess of "fair use," that user may be liable for copyright infringement.

This institution reserves the right to refuse to accept a copying order if, in its judgment, fulfillment of the order would involve violation of Copyright Law.

Quoted from Reproduction of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians. Circular 21. United States Copyright Office. PDF (102 Kb | Web Rev. June 1998)

Note: The following text was extracted from a message posted by the DOCLINE team to DOCLINE-L on November 7, 2008. The message stemmed from a discussion about Loansome Doc service to for-profit institutions, but it describes copyright and license issues that are important for all DOCLINE libraries.

Loansome Doc allows DOCLINE libraries to efficiently provide biomedical literature to their affiliated users, and unaffiliated health professionals. Also, by NN/LM agreement, Resource Libraries serve the generic category of "public". Loansome Doc is open to everyone, but is primarily used by health professionals affiliated with a DOCLINE library, who account for 77% of Loansome Doc patrons. Unaffiliated health professionals account for 12% of users, with just 10.5% of users in the "public" category. Affiliated users account for 76% of requests, unaffiliated health professionals for 15%, and "public" users for 9% of requests.

DOCLINE libraries must comply with U.S. copyright law, or the copyright law of their country, in the requesting and lending of material through DOCLINE and Loansome Doc. In the U.S., the requestor is responsible for copyright compliance. Once a Loansome Doc request is transferred into DOCLINE, it becomes a mediated ILL request and the borrowing library is responsible for copyright compliance. Lending libraries assume that the borrowing library is complying with copyright either through fair use or by making royalty payments. The request indicates the borrower's method of copyright compliance. MLA members may refer to the publication "Copyright Law and the Health Sciences Librarian" for more information about the law, or the U.S. Copyright Office at

Libraries signing e-journal license agreements are additionally bound by those contracts in providing material from those titles. License agreements may introduce new restrictions to ILL lending, including delivery method and geographic delivery restrictions, as well as prohibitions against 'for profit' entities. Libraries are encouraged to negotiate strongly for those services that meet their immediate needs, as well as the long-term needs of resource sharing.

If you as a lender have concerns about a particular request or borrowing library, please address it with the borrower. If the matter cannot be resolved or is on-going, the lender should contact the Regional Medical Library of that borrower to see if a resolution can be achieved.

Borrowers are reminded to indicate their method of complying with copyright during the DOCLINE borrow process. "Guidelines" indicates that the borrower's ILL request complies with copyright law under Sections 107 - 108 of the US copyright act, or your country's equivalent of "Fair Use" if applicable. "Law" indicates that the borrower's ILL request complies with copyright law by paying royalties to copyright holder directly or thru an agent such as Copyright Clearance Center (CCC); or requested item is not covered by copyright.

As a final note, Loansome Doc patrons acknowledge the U.S. Copyright statement during registration and for each subsequent order. If a patron is requesting material outside of "fair use", then royalties would apply.

  • The Routing Profile in your DOCLINE institutional record has a section that indicates CONTU Guidelines or Copyright Law. The default is "Guidelines". You can change this when you create a DOCLINE request.
  • Use CONTU Guidelines when your library does not currently subscribe to a periodical title AND when the material requested was published within five years of the date of the request.
  • Use Copyright Law when the material was published earlier than five years prior to the date of the request, OR if your library subscribes to the material and for some reason it is not available (e.g., at the bindery or not yet received), OR the article is in the public domain. (This applies to material for which copyright has expired, material that was intentionally placed in the public domain, or material published by a U.S. Federal Government employee as part of his/her work.)

Review borrowing activity and records

  • According to CONTU guidelines, keep records for borrowing requests for three years beyond the calendar year in which the request was filled. Discard these records after three years.
  • Within any calendar year, examine those requests for which you followed CONTU Guidelines. If you have requested more than five articles from the past five years of a given periodical title, you may have exceeded CONTU guidelines.
  • If your requests exceed CONTU guidelines, you may need to pay copyright royalties to the copyright owner or to a rights manager such as the Copyright Clearance Center, or you may need to purchase a copy through a document delivery service that pays royalty fees to the copyright owner.
  • DOCLINE Report 1-8, "Ranked List of Serial Titles Requested" will help you identify titles that might exceed CONTU Guidelines.