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A recent discussion on the Liblicense-L list (beginning with this post by Beth Jacoby on February 25) has highlighted Elsevier's policies for inter-library loan of its electronic journal articles: To fulfill an ILL request, print the electronic article, then scan it back into the computer to send it. See the February 28 post by Daviess Menefee of Elsevier Library Relations, or Elsevier's policy page last updated February 7.
In a February 29 post at DigitalKoans, Charles Bailey provides some background:
Since, in the U.S., print journals are owned, are subject to the "first sale doctrine," and are covered by long-standing CONTU Guidelines, libraries have not had to generally grapple with complex ILL issues for them; however, e-journals from major publishers are licensed, licenses are publisher-specific, and the terms of the license agreements determine if and how ILL can be performed.A request has also been posted on the list for Elsevier to explain the rationale behind this policy, to which there has not yet been a response. (We'll add it here if/when there is.)
Comment. Any unauthorized use of copyrighted content may be defensible as fair use under U.S. law. But there is less clarity regarding such uses than the fairly well-established ILL guidelines.
Update. Via the Internet Archive, this aspect of Elsevier's policy appears to date back to at least 2005.
Update. On March 3, Elsevier's Menefee posted a response:
As to why we require printing first (and our understanding is that most publishers also do this), the reasons are fairly simple. First, this is most closely analogous to the traditional and well-understood practices of print, where one photocopies or scans the print. What is received by the requester is about the same quality copy.