Goodreads Librarians Group discussion

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copyright info on book descriptions??

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message 1: by Debbie (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:16PM) (new)

Debbie Willey | 5 comments I'm new to librarian status - thanks! In looking at book descriptions on Amazon, they're usually from Publisher's weekly with a "copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved." at the end - I assume we should keep that copyright notice intact on the goodreads pages?

message 2: by Laura (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:16PM) (new)

Laura (laurahogan) | 38 comments I don't know that I'd pull those descriptions from Amazon at all, actually, unless Goodreads wants to defend a DMCA suit. PW licenses its material to Amazon (and to Powells too), but I presume it hasn't done Goodreads the same courtesy. So unless I'm wrong, and PW has licensed its work to Goodreads, I'm guessing it's Not Ok to pull that stuff and post it here.

message 3: by Debbie (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:17PM) (new)

Debbie Willey | 5 comments I'm pulling them from the author's website instead...the Amazon idea came from another thread in this forum, so I thought that's what everyone was doing. sorry! I've deleted the 2 that came from there...

message 4: by Laura (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:17PM) (new)

Laura (laurahogan) | 38 comments Well, it's possible that either 1) there's a licensing arrangement I'm not aware of; or 2) that I'm mistaken about the copyright issues. Maybe more learned counsel can opine on the matter? Anyone?

(For similar reasons, I wouldn't be pulling anything from anyone's site without permission, even the author's, because of the same copyright issues.)

message 5: by Debbie (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:17PM) (new)

Debbie Willey | 5 comments then where DO you get book descriptions? The ones from the authors sites are exactly what's on the flap of the book jacket that you can read from any store...just a synopsis. I've seen lots of them on this site with names (signatures) at the end (Jane Adams comes to mind) that I assume are critics or something - wouldn't their stuff be copyrighted too?

message 6: by Laura (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:17PM) (new)

Laura (laurahogan) | 38 comments Well, you could write them yourself, no?

And of course, the fact that you can read it in any store doesn't mean that you can copy it without permission, even with attribution. You can read almost any copyrighted work in a public place.

But that does bring us to the question of whether any of the developers of this site have given any thought to copyright issues. If it turns out that people are copying reviews from Amazon and posting them here, that's something I'd be concerned about. It's certainly possible that the copyright holders won't mind, but maybe someone should look into that?

message 7: by Debbie (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:17PM) (new)

Debbie Willey | 5 comments I suppose I could write them - except I have a lousy memory and read most of these books years and years ago!! I guess I'll just give up that part of my quest here...

message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

Hi -- as an author (with librarian status), I would certainly very much mind if someone pulled any info from either of my websites (my co-author and I have two, both relating to our books) without our permission -- as far as I know, only the author and his/her publisher (Or authorized publications who have been granted persisson to use the material, like PW, can use those write-ups, which are especially written by either the publicity departments of the publishers, and/or the editor of the books) without explicit permission. Also, Amazon holds copyright on all written material on thier site -- even reader reviews; you're not even supposed to post the same review on, say, B& (not that I haven't seen that done, but it is in thier TOS when you agree to write a review. In short, I would steer clear of anything already published on another source.

Similarly, insofar as author bios go, I'd guess it's pretty much the same deal, as they're either written by the authors themselves (as my co-author and I did), or the publishers/publicity people. I suppose I could have, but, personally, I didn't use the bios from the books/publisher's website for our books on this site; I wrote fresh ones (or revised old material) for my personal bio, and the name we write under as a team -- all of that material on other sites is fully copyrighted, on the book jackets, on my publisher's website, and our own websites.

message 9: by Roxanne Hsu (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:17PM) (new)

Roxanne Hsu Feldman (fairrosa) | 10 comments I think we should try as hard as possible to not infringe on copyrights of other organizations or people. I would love it for goodreads to stay away from any potential law suits. The basic information such as ISBN, Title, Author, publisher, dates, etc. are not copyrighted and we should be able to use them at will.

Cover art is a bit murky but I don't believe publishers object to the use of cover images when people post about books.

However, if we start copying/pasting other people's copyrighted materials such as published reviews which were "sold" to Amazon and other such services by companies such as Reeds (PW and SLJ, among others,) then, we are treading on delicate and even dangerous ground.

I am uncertain about the book descriptions from publishers posted on Amazon. I imagine that they are free to be used but someone else here probably know better about this part of the law. Another place that I sometimes grab descriptions is online Library Catalogs, most of these descriptions are from the publishers to Library of Congress for cataloging purposes, and I hope I didn't do something illegal by copying those descriptions.

message 10: by Laura (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:17PM) (new)

Laura (laurahogan) | 38 comments Thanks for weighing in, Honore -- I'm going to bring this issue up in the Goodreads Feedback group.

message 11: by Debbie (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:17PM) (new)

Debbie Willey | 5 comments no problem. deleted all the ones I'd posted...but I have to say that every description I've read (not posted by me) on the books on my shelves ARE being copied and pasted from somewhere (that's why I thought it was okay). Most of them have an author's name at the end (Jane Adams and Nicholas H. Allison are 2 I've seen - I don't know if they're critics or magazine writers or what). Again, I'm sorry for any trouble I may have stirred up, but I'm clearly not the first one to do this, it's just never been addressed before (that I could find anyway).

I also would have thought it would be okay to post "flap copy", as that in all liklihood is what the publisher puts out there to generate interest in a book....but that's also what's on the author's website, so I won't post those either.

message 12: by Lisa (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:18PM) (new)

Lisa Vegan (lisavegan) | 2413 comments I've manually added quite a few books, especially children's books. Unless it's illustrator information or Library of Congress Number, etc., I don't put any information in the description. I don't believe it's legal to copy any descriptive text from any other source; I would assume it’s copyrighted. I don’t feel sufficiently confident about my writing or my judgment about what’s the crux of the book to write my own description for all of goodreads users. I prefer to leave that area blank, although with those books I do try to review them or plan to eventually review them, as that will give goodreads users enough information to go look them up on other sources if they have any interest.

message 13: by Laura (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:18PM) (new)

Laura (laurahogan) | 38 comments I think that's a pretty good policy, to not copy anything at all. And of course, the fact that the author or publisher puts flap copy out to generate interest in a book doesn't mean it's fine to copy the stuff and post it elsewhere, any more than it would be ok to pirate a DVD and justify it by saying, "Well, but the studio wants its work to be seen by as many people as possible."

message 14: by Roxanne Hsu (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:18PM) (new)

Roxanne Hsu Feldman (fairrosa) | 10 comments Besides, when a book gets reader reviews, you tend to know what the book is about from the reviews or comments and discussions. Since we're the only ones that have the power to edit such field, we should try to keep it clean. However, wouldn't you think that the Library of Congress CIP summary (those really short one or two-liners on the copyright page) could be used for our purposes here?

I wonder if those are copyrighted or existing as a public interest service?

message 15: by Lisa (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:18PM) (new)

Lisa Vegan (lisavegan) | 2413 comments While we're on this subject: What about book covers? I've just started adding them and now I wonder if that's legit? Thanks for any feedback.

message 16: by Otis, Chief Architect (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:19PM) (new)

Otis Chandler | 315 comments Mod
Hey everyone,

Thanks for bringing this up. Goodreads is officially a member of Amazon ECS, and the terms of that agreement state:

"we hereby grant to you, without the right to sublicense, a limited, non-exclusive, non-transferable license during the Term, under our intellectual property or proprietary rights in the Amazon Properties, only to install, copy and use the Amazon Properties solely in connection with and as necessary for your use of such Services and solely to the extent in compliance with all the terms and conditions of this Agreement"

What this basically means is that Goodreads is allowed to use any data they provide through their API, including book descriptions and images. This is why many of the existing book descriptions are from Amazon.

Since some book descriptions on their site may or may not be available through Amazon ECS, I'm not sure if copying it directly from their website is a good idea. But I agree with Five that generally the descriptions on the publishers site are safe to add, and probably the best place to look for quality book descriptions.

I hope this helps, and if anyone has anything to add, please post a reply.

message 17: by Lisa (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:20PM) (new)

Lisa Vegan (lisavegan) | 2413 comments The book covers I'm adding to books aren't at Amazon because Amazon doesn't have them, and I can't find them anywhere online. I'm scanning and uploading them from books I own. So, I'm wondering if that's ok. Most, although not 100%, of these books are old editions/old books.

message 18: by Bree (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:20PM) (new)

Bree (coffeebeanbookshelf) | 18 comments I believe from reading copyright law (not that I am a lawyer or anything, but for my own research) that images and portions of text (such as the book cover info) of most works (including art, books, movies) can be used for review purposes - which is exactly what GoodReads does. :)

I will go try to find that info again, and will post it here.

message 19: by Lisa (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:20PM) (new)

Lisa Vegan (lisavegan) | 2413 comments Thanks Bree. I will do some research also.

message 20: by JZ (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:21PM) (new)

JZ Temple | 2 comments I'm also assuming that posting cover images is ok, based upon the "review purposes" criteria. Gosh, otherwise what's the point of having a scanner and lots of free time on my hands ? Actually, Amazon allows people to upload cover images as well, and I've got to believe that they did their legal homework over there.

message 21: by Tim (last edited Feb 27, 2008 04:59AM) (new)

Tim NB: my comments about the below law are my opinions only. Clearly i could be wrong :P

This Goodreads site is for the purposes of criticism/review and comment.

As Bree suggests, under copyright law, it is legal to post descriptions and cover art under the Fair Use statute dependent upon the following points:

Here is the US law relating to this:

§ 107. Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use40

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include —

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;

(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

UK law has a similar stance.

So, relating these points to our use here on this site:

1: members adding info is for not for profit educational use.
2. books are not being copied, only descriptions of books and cover art which are themselves being used to sell the books.
3. the review is likely copied in full. (not sure this would be an issue given the other points as all points are considered together)
4. the effect of use would be to promote said books/publishers, thus adding value, not removing it.

The only slight potential issue is that while we as members are clearly not using the info we add for commercial purposes and Goodreads isnt directly either, i guess that potentially Goodreads is at the end of the day benefiting from it commercially indirectly through adverts (unless i am mistaken and no monies are made).

If this is true, then members adding info from other sources are within rights to do so, but im not sure if Goodreads itself would be heh.

Once could also suggest that adding descriptions etc could increase the chance of someone buying said book, which would clearly benefit the author and publisher. Im unsure why they would (as suggested by one author in this thread) not want people to freely promote their works in this way. Again, just to point out that doing so is entirely within the law as long as doing so falls under the Fair Use statute.

ps im no legal beagle whatsoever, just that i have read a bit about copyright law and fair use as it applies to news reporting etc which falls under the same category.

message 22: by Debbie (new)

Debbie Moorhouse Seriously, Honore, you would object to people giving your book free publicity? Wow.

message 23: by rivka, Former Librarian Moderator (new)

rivka | 45524 comments Mod
An author who fails to protect their copyright risks losing those rights.

However, I agree with Seek -- this seems to be within fair use.

message 24: by Debbie (new)

Debbie Moorhouse That's true of trademarks--it's not true of copyright afaik.

message 25: by rivka, Former Librarian Moderator (last edited Feb 27, 2008 07:22PM) (new)

rivka | 45524 comments Mod
It is as a practical matter. That is, if I sue you for violating my copyright, but you can prove that I have knowingly ignored many violations in the past, I will probably lose my case.

It's why many authors aggressively go after fanficcers.

message 26: by John (new)

John fanficcers??

message 27: by rivka, Former Librarian Moderator (new)

rivka | 45524 comments Mod
Those who write fanfic.

message 28: by John (new)

John Thanks for the link - I'd (obviously!) never heard of the phenomenon before.

Closest I've come was the recent "sequel" to Harriet the Spy, which was authorized, though the publisher shoulda picked a different fan to write it, IMHO.

message 29: by Tim (new)

Tim Oh my... Ive just been reading up a little on fanfic and inadvertently discovered... "Potter Porn".. :O

I don't intend to ever read Harry Potter, let alone the concept of "hot boy-on-broomstick action" in titles such as "Harry Potter: Taken by Force" is.. *speechless*

Funny stuff *chuckles*

message 30: by rivka, Former Librarian Moderator (new)

rivka | 45524 comments Mod
HP slash is generally beyond bizarre, and usually complete unreadable (IMO). Not that I've tried very hard, admittedly. ;)

The best fanfics are the ones that don't take themselves too seriously. There's a great HP fic called "Naked Quidditch" -- look for it on -- that's a perfect example of this. :D

message 31: by Kathrynn (new)

Kathrynn | 189 comments Wow! I never heard of "fanfic" either. Thank you for posting that link. Interesting. I didn't know there was such a critter...

message 32: by Debbie (new)

Debbie Moorhouse I'm not convinced that fanfic is a threat to the authors' copyright--many I think feel it's a threat to their moral rights, not to mention their reputations--but in any case, objecting to the distribution of copy written to publicise your book has nothing to do with your copyright in that book, and seems, at least to me, to be self defeating.

message 33: by rivka, Former Librarian Moderator (new)

rivka | 45524 comments Mod
I completely agree. :) I was just trying to explain why someone might feel otherwise.

I based my comments on conversations I've had with authors and intellectual property lawyers in the past (to the best of my recollection). And while I disagree, I think it is worth considering their perspective.

message 34: by Tim (new)

Tim Agreed. I think that it may often be a matter of the author being pressured by the terms of their contract rather than being a copyright issue in its own right.

To be honest, i think that there are many flaws with copyrighting, trademarking and patenting.
I mean wtf should any one person or company be able to patent a phrase...or DNA strands... I mean come on!

In the following link there is a piece about Paris Hilton who tradmarked the two words, "Thats hot"... and is trying to sue card company Hallmark because they used it on a card...


I think that intellectual property copyrights should expire much sooner than they do. Currently copyright lasts 120 years or the lifetime of the author plus 90 years..
I would think that 25-30 years is long enough, equivalent to a full term of service in a career.

message 35: by Debbie (new)

Debbie Moorhouse Thanks, Rivka--was useful information :).

Krista the Krazy Kataloguer (kristathekrazykataloguer) | 3 comments Hi everyone!
I've been adding descriptions from, i.e., OCLC, which is a cataloguing source. is a free version of the subscription OCLC. These are generally one- or two- sentence summaries that are usually identical to those found in the CIP. I don't believe these are copyrighted. Most libraries' online catalogues use summary statements, contents notes, etc., from OCLC/WorldCat. Since GoodReads is just another database of cataloguing, I don't think there would be a problem. However, I'd be happy to doublecheck with OCLC if you like. We don't want to be violating copyright!

message 37: by rivka, Former Librarian Moderator (new)

rivka | 45524 comments Mod
And it offers a Firefox search extension. Excellent! :)

Um. Might want to check with them. Their Terms of Use are complex enough that I'm not sure I'm reading them correctly.

In any case, it's a great resource. Thanks for sharing!

Krista the Krazy Kataloguer (kristathekrazykataloguer) | 3 comments I emailed OCLC last night and received a response this morning that indicated they will get back to me with the answer. I'll let everyone know what they say.

Krista the Krazy Kataloguer (kristathekrazykataloguer) | 3 comments Just received the answer from OCLC, and it's no go. Because GoodReads is considered a commercial site, the book descriptions can't be used. I'll have to take out all the ones I added. I'll forward the message I got from them to Otis for his records.

Frankly, I'm a little put out by their response, as I created some of that cataloguing in OCLC/WorldCat, and none of us (I think) are making any profit off of GR. As far as I'm concerned, cataloguing is meant to be shared. It's a freedom of information/library principle! By OCLC's definition, then, public libraries that make money off of fines for overdue books shouldn't use OCLC's cataloguing because they're making a profit, but I know they all do use it.

Come to think of it, maybe OCLC thinks sites like GoodReads are a threat to, which, by the way, also contains ads from Amazon. Maybe they want to be THE source for book information.

I hate legal matters!

message 40: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Vegan (lisavegan) | 2413 comments Krista, I agree with you. And also appreciate you doing the research that got us the answer, even if it's one with which we disagree. Thank you so much for helping GR. And sorry for all the deletions you have to do.

message 41: by rivka, Former Librarian Moderator (new)

rivka | 45524 comments Mod
I was afraid of that. It did look like the considered sites with ad revenue (like GR) to be "commercial." I was hoping they didn't really mean that.


Thanks for trying, Krista!

message 42: by rivka, Former Librarian Moderator (new)

rivka | 45524 comments Mod
Please don't bump an unrelated 6 year old thread.

ISBNs sometimes get reused. See

If you have more questions, please start a new thread. I am closing this one.

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