When meteorologist Rob Fowler at WCBD-TV in Charleston, S.C., read the picture book classic Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs on air last week, he did exactly what Simon & Schuster hopes others will do too. Fowler and his station looked over S&S’s newly relaxed fair use permissions and credited the publisher in a post of the video on Facebook. It is new territory for S&S and many other children’s publishers, who are balancing making content available to educators and parents in response to the new coronavirus with protecting the copyrights of the authors they publish. (As part of PW's ongoing coronavirus coverage, a forthcoming article will explore other initiatives being taken by educational publishers.)

“We have always viewed ourselves as being protectors of our authors’ copyright, but this is an extreme situation we have never dealt with before,” said Michelle Leo, v-p, director of education and library marketing at S&S. “How do we support people who want to keep their students, patrons, and customers engaged? What do we do to make it easier for them?”

Leo and her team ultimately decided to relax the company’s fair use policy on postings, so long as they are taken down by the end of June and appropriately credit the company. The approach also allows the company to address a record-high volume of requests, something that has happened at other publishing houses as well.

“There has rarely been a time in our lives where the importance of community was as clear to us as it is today,” said Marisa Russell, executive director of publicity at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. “Our legal and publishing teams collaborated to create a permission statement, and we have received wonderful feedback from the educator community.”

Scholastic has been inundated with requests from educators, librarians, and parents looking to post videos of story times and book-related content online. “We have been moved by the numerous requests we’ve received from teachers across the country who are trying to address these needs by posting readings of books online for students to access,” said senior director of publicity Lauren Donovan. “We want to support these efforts and have given permission for our books to be read online, with select guidelines in regard to platform, notice, and duration of availability.”

Among those availing themselves of the new policies are Scholastic authors Peter Reynolds and Mac Barnett, both of whom have hosted online story times, as has Scholastic ambassador for school libraries John Schumacher, who read Aaron Blabey’s Pig the Tourist for a Barnes and Noble digital story time late last week.

In most cases, publishers’ fair use modifications have been possible without a need to alter author contracts. At HarperCollins Children’s Books, v-p and associate publisher Jean McGinley said that educators have been respectful of the new rules that request that people credit the company, send an e-mail with basic information, and remove content by the end of the school year. Still, the company is watching to ensure things stay that way. “We of course are here to make sure that our authors and illustrators feel good about how their content is being used and will remain vigilant on that front, but we also know everyone is doing the best they can right now,” she said.

Authors have been some of the most avid spokespeople for ensuring that rights and permissions are adhered to. Author Kate Messner has compiled a large set of online resources on the “Read, Wonder, and Learn!” page of her website, including author readings and drawing lessons. For each one, she has followed publisher guidelines and also compiled a list for others.

“The bottom line is that authors, illustrators, and publishers all want kids to have access to stories at home, but we also hope we’ll be able to continue making books when this is all over, which is why we so appreciate teachers and librarians who are doing their best to get stories into kids’ hands and homes in ways that follow those fair-use guidelines,” Messner said.

Andrews McMeel Publishing trusts that the relaxed fair use policies will all work out because of the people using them. Beginning March 31, the company will be giving away an e-book each week through a digital download link. President and publisher Kirsty Melville said the company felt confident in doing so because the people downloading the links are trusted partners with whom the company has always worked. “Our children’s outreach strategy primarily speaks to the gatekeepers—the librarians, teachers, and parents who are doing everything they can amid the crisis to keep their kids engaged and learning,” Melville said. “Children’s publishers are partners in this effort, and must continue to trust the gatekeepers to utilize our content responsibly."

For most companies, the fair use provisions will hold until the end of the school year, at which time educators are obliged to take them down. That could change depending on what happens as the coronavirus continues to spread. “We’re in a position where, if we need to re-evaluate that in mid-June, I’m certain that we would,” said Leo at S&S. “But I’m certain that we hope that isn’t the case, and that we’ve seen a return to normalcy.”

Fair Use policies for the publishers mentioned in this article are included below:

Andrews McMeel Publishing: Determined on a per-book basis in accordance with the publisher promotion described above.

HarperCollins Children's Books

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers


Simon and Schuster