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A look at storytime events run by libraries and the copyright situation and the industry agreements related to them.
Many libraries run story time events for children. Typically it involves a library staff member or an invited author or guest reading a picture book aloud to children. Often this takes place on the library premises – a situation generally agreed to be possible under a s 200AB
But what if a library wants to host a story time event outside of the library? Or a library wants to live stream story time? Or share pre-recorded videos of story time on their website or social media channels?
To help make certain story time activities more clear, the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) has instigated three industry-led agreements and arrangements. This page provides more information about the different situations that may come up around story time events hosted by libraries.
Story time in the library
As a general rule reading a book is not an infringement of copyright. So why would reading a book aloud for an audience in a library be a problem in terms of copyright? The reason reading aloud is a copyright matter is because to do so involves a public performance of the literary work, and public performance is one of the exclusive rights copyright owners of literary works enjoy.
However, for storytime activities taking place within a library, it is generally held that this falls within the scope of s 200AB, the flexible dealing exception.
Story time in-person outside of the library
Generally speaking, it is possible for libraries to run story time events at locations outside of the library. This situation was clarified by a September 2019 joint statement by ALIA, the Australian Publishers Association and the Australian Society of Authors. The statement reads:
“While the Copyright Act enables the performance of a picture book in some circumstances, the APA, the ASA, and ALIA agree on the value of an environment in which libraries are free from doubt and feel confident to run important early literacy activities such as storytimes both at the library and elsewhere, for example at local festivals or as part of a community playgroup activity.
It is the policy of the Australian Publishers Association and the Australian Society of Authors that its members allow such use without any need for specific permission or payment.”
For more information about the statement see the ALIA website.
Story time online
In copyright terms things get more complicated when you want to make content available online – such as using online means such as live streaming a story time event or pre-recording a reading and releasing it on a library’s website or social media channels. This is because when you make the content available online you make a communication of the literary work. Communication is also an exclusive right enjoyed by a copyright owner of a literary work.
As COVID-19 began to spread in late February and early March of 2020 libraries across Australia were forced to close. Like a number of other services provided to the community by libraries, this meant library story time activities had to be cancelled. Many libraries looked to internet technologies such as live streaming and social media as opportunities to continue these important early literacy activities – but there were questions about copyright when undertaking story time activities online.
In response, on Wednesday 18 March 2020 the Boards of ALIA, APA and ASA set a policy that members suspend any requirements for copyright permission to be sought in relation to a live streamed or pre-recorded library-run storytime event. Importantly, the 2020 ‘special arrangement’ for library virtual story times during COVID-19 was not extended into 2021.
Rather, a new agreement and a 12-month pilot program was put in place that would run from 1 January 2021–31 December 2021. Under the scheme publishers can permit the use of their Australian picture book titles for online storytime events. To take part, libraries pay an annual subscription of $150 plus GST. This allows them to make unlimited use of nominated picture books. Each recording can only be available for up to six months.
The ALCC commends ALIA, APA and ASA on the pilot program and it’s success to date – on 27 January 2021 there was 68 nominated titles in the scheme. This jumped up to 211 titles by 17 March 2021 and 232 on 1 April 2021.
For more information about the current agreement and pilot program for virtual story time see the ALIA website.