I have a printed version (i.e. a hardback or paperback) of a book and I wonder whether this allows me to possess an electronic version of it (e.g. .pdf file).

Edit: Isn't it allowed by the clause 107. Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use., which says

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The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.


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    In Poland it is allowed to make a backup copy, or copy for other medium, for example copy audio casette to CD. I'd search in that direction. You may not have the rights to use downloaded version of e-book, but you may have right to scan it for own usage. "May" implies only the possibility, that it can be allowed by law (the policies of the companies doesn't matter, if they give you less rights than the law in specific country).
    – user43
    Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 11:16
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    No. It's the same as a CD does not give you any rights on the MP3s available on the nets. Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 12:32
  • @MartinSchröder : No, but it allows you to rip the CD yourself, provided you don't break any anti-copy system doing it. Similarly, scanning your own books is allowed.
    – njzk2
    Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 14:50
  • @njzk2: Yes, you can scan the book yourself - but you have no rights on other electronic copies of the book available elsewhere. Especially not from the publisher. Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 15:21
  • @MartinSchröder : agreed. The publisher's file is an edition with a particular set of copyrights associated with it.
    – njzk2
    Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 16:04

4 Answers 4


Just like buying a hardcover version doesn't let you also take a paperback from the store, no, having a print version does not entitle you to a complimentary ebook version, though some publishers will offer that when you buy from their websites.

  • Thanks. What if I later found a PDF version of the book online? Would I be allowed to possess it, given that scanning the book I bought would give the same result? Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 3:52
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    @FranckDernoncourt you would have to purchase the electronic copy. You may want to consult the publisher's website to see if they are offering the ebook to people that purchased the title. Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 3:54
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    @Frank: legally, no. Ethically, it's arguable.
    – Tom
    Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 3:55
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    @FranckDernoncourt Fair use generally applies to limited use, like quoting a sentence or two from an editorial in a response to that editorial. I've never heard of a scenario in which you could copy an entire book and call it fair use. That said, this isn't legal advice; anytime you have a legal question like this, you need to get a professional opinion from a lawyer who knows the area.
    – elixenide
    Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 4:41
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    would downvote if I could. take a paperback from the store is thievery. possess the ebook is a copyright infringement over the edition of that ebook (that is, not over the content, since you own the paper version of the book).
    – njzk2
    Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 14:49

That would depend on the publisher. They are not required to provide an electronic version of the book but some do it to help sell the title. Usually you can check the copyright page in some and will have the last page at the end of the book that tells you it is included.

What you are asking is a selling feature of the book and some publishers even go as far to have it printed on the cover to encourage a purchase. Depending on when it was published, they didn't start including the electronic copy until approximately three years ago.

Per your edit:

You can scan the book if you want and create something like a web .pdf if you own the book but I wouldn't advise distributing (selling or giving away free copies in digital form) unless you have rights to it from the publisher or author.


If you want to digitize it yourself, you absolutely can under the First Sale Doctrine, provided that you own the copy of the books. I digitize books, so this actually wouldn't be daunting. At this point, however, I haven't started digitizing personal books yet. Yet.

I use free, open source tools to process ebooks from digitized books: Homer (sorts pages and performs OCR), ScanTailor(included w/ Homer), Sigil (for editing the epub), Calibre (for converting to mobi and other formats). If it is a print copy you don't care much about, you can cut off the spine, use a flatbed scanner to create tifs. If there is a library or copy center with fast feed scanners, this can be done in pretty short order. If the book is precious to you, you need a rig, which can be as simple as a cardboard box (see the Homer website) and a camera. Overkill? For some, but not if you get the skills under your belt. Fun? That depends on the quality of the OCR. :-)

That said, you can also check with the publisher. Smaller publishers offer discounted prices on ebooks if you own the print copy. If you want a digital copy for the short term, check your local library and see if they offer it.

  • Thanks for the links and mentioning the first-sale doctrine! Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 20:31

An e-book is basically made of 2 things, that both have copyrights associated:

  • The content of the book
  • The edition of the book

The former is the work of the author to write the text. The latter is the work of the editor to turn the text into a presentable file.

A paper book is the same thing, plus a physical support, which have an intrinsic value due to its physical nature.

By acquiring a paper book, you obtain a licence over the content of the book, and the fair use right on the content of the book.

However, that does not grant you the licence over the edition of any ebook in particular, and therefore does not allow you to own a published electronic edition of the book. The important point here is that an e-book is always considered a different edition from the paper version.

Which does not prevent you to own any electronic edition, for example if you do it yourself. Making an electronic edition of the book (either by copying it, scanning it, OCRing it...) yourself enters in the fair use.

  • Thanks. How about if someone else has scanned the book as a PDF: am I allowed to possess such PDF? Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 20:29
  • It probably depends on the countries. The person would usually be considered as not allowed to distribute the file, as it contains copyrighted content that he has no right to distribute. In France there is an exception in the case of family/close friends (which is quite fuzzy, I'll give you that) which basically covers lending/copying material.
    – njzk2
    Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 21:00
  • Some would argue that you have the book and that there is no copyright on that particular PDF edition, so you should be safe, but the person who gave it to you could be in trouble..
    – njzk2
    Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 21:01
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    Just for clarification of njzk2's answer, "fair use" is not what applies in this instance, and yes I'm in the US. Fair use allows for some usage of copyrighted material -- and you don't necessarily need to own it, provided that basically you aren't going to use the whole thing, are using it for non-commercial and education purposes. The Right of First Sale (in the US) is what allows me to digitize a print book in its entirety. If I sell that copy, or load it onto a torrent site, etc., that's a problem. Commented Mar 11, 2014 at 0:34
  • @mattrweaver : thanks for clarification. I am not in the us, and am not certain what the actual term should be depending on the countries (it appears that a lot of countries have similar concepts. In France it would be Right to Private Copy).
    – njzk2
    Commented Mar 11, 2014 at 12:35

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