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Read Alouds: Fun? Or Infringement?

Updated: Apr 18

Read alouds on social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok and Youtube, may sound like a fun idea, but did you know that reading a book in its entirety may be a violation of the author’s or publisher‘s copyright? If the book being read isn’t in the public domain or the reader didn’t receive expressed permission from the author or publisher to read the whole book online, it is considered infringement. That means an author or publisher couldtake legal action.

Reading a book aloud publicly (such as in a video that is uploaded to social media) that isn’t your own is an infringement of the author’s copyright, if the book is still under copyright protection and permission wasn’t obtained.

Reading books aloud that are in the public domain is OK, and permission is not needed. Books that are in the “public domain” and considered to be clear of copyright are older works including a lot of folktales, early school “readers”, etc. All works published in the United States before 1924 are in the public domain. Works published after 1923, but before 1978 are protected for 95 years from the date of publication. If the work was created, but not published, before 1978, the copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. It gets a little more complicated when dealing with joint authors and works for hire. But books published in 1925 enter the public domain this year (2021).

Fair use is a defense in the US against copyright infringement, when you are using an excerpt of copyrighted content for the purposes of parody, criticism, news reporting, education or research about that content. A teacher reading to a class in online learning is an example of fair use for education.

So, if you read a few passages from a book as part of a YouTube or Instagram review of the book, that would probably qualify as fair use. Publishers generally don’t mind if you read a portion of a book to promote it. But reading the entire book without obtaining permission for the purpose of entertaining your viewers with the story (no matter how well meaning)-that’s NOT fair use.

By reading an entire book online for viewers, you are essentially creating a free audiobook that is in direct competition with the sale of the author’s book. In this instance the author/publisher can take steps to remove the video or initiate legal action.

So, if you intend to read a book aloud in its entirety on social media or in recorded video to be shared to the public for entertainment purposes, make sure the book isn’t under copyright protection or just get permission from the author, publisher or other copyright holder to read the whole book.

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