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Copyright Resources


Copyright is protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U.S. Code) to the authors of original works, including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works, including materials published in electronic format. Copyright protection covers any work; published or unpublished, beginning at the time the work is created in a fixed form.

Copyright law protects the expression of ideas or facts, not the ideas or facts themselves.


Public Domain Works

Some categories of publications are in the public domain and their use is not protected by copyright law any longer. Once a work has acquired public domain status it is no longer eligible for copyright protection. Categories include:

  1. Publications dated prior to 1922.
  2. Works that do not include a copyright notice and were first published before January 1, 1978.
  3. United States government documents.

Here is a chart detailing what is and is not covered by copyright.

To determine a work's public domain status, see When U.S. Works Pass into the Public Domain, a chart for determining public domain status, prepared by Lolly Gasaway of the University of North Carolina.


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"Fair Use" Guidelines

In general, it is permissible to reproduce portions of another's work under the doctrine of "fair use", for the purposes of teaching, research or scholarship, provided the factors guiding "fair use" are followed.

Four factors help determine the nature of "fair use":

  1. The purpose and character of the use-including non-profit, educational or commercial use
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount of the copying-substantiality, or portion to be copied-in other words, although you may want to copy only a small portion of a work, if it includes the most substantial part of the work, it may not be allowed under "fair use."
  4. The effect of the copying on the market value (or potential market value) of the work

Fair Use for the Classroom

According to Title 17, Section 107 of the Copyright law, concerning the reproduction of copyrighted works by educators and librarians, the following guidelines should be followed:

Single Copying for Teachers
A single copy may be made of any of the following by or for any faculty or staff member at his or her individual request for use in research or for teaching a class:

  • A chapter from a book;
  • An article from a periodical or newspaper;
  • A short story, short essay or short poem, whether or not from a collective work;
  • A chart, graph, diagram, drawing, cartoon or picture from a book, periodical, or newspaper.

Multiple Copies for Classroom Use
Multiple copies (not to exceed in any event more than one copy per student in a course) may be made by or for the faculty giving the course for classroom use or discussion, provided that:

  • The copying meets the following tests of brevity and spontaneity as defined below; and,
  • Meets the cumulative effect test as defined below; and,
  • Each copy includes a notice of copyright



  • Poetry:  (a) A complete poem if less than 250 words and if printed on not more than two pages, or (b) from a longer poem, an excerpt of not more than 250 words.
  • Prose:  (a) Either a complete article, story or essay of less than 250 words, or (b) an excerpt from any prose work of not more than 1,000 words or 10% of the work, whichever is less, but in any event a minimum of 500 words
  • Illustration:  One chart, graph, diagram, drawing, cartoon or picture per book or per periodical issue.
  • "Special" works:  Certain works in poetry, prose or in "poetic prose" which often combine language with illustrations and which are intended sometimes for children and at other times for more general audience fall short of 2,500 words in their entirety. Such "special works" may not be reproduced in their entirety; however, an excerpt comprising not more than two of the published pages of such special work and containing not more than 10% of the words found in the text thereof, may be reproduced.


  • The copying is at the instance and inspiration of the individual teacher, and
  • The inspiration and decision to use the work and the moment of its use for maximum teaching effectiveness are so close in time that it would be unreasonable to expect a timely reply to a request for permission.

             Cumulative Effect

  • The copying of the material is for only one course in the school in which the copies are made.
  • Not more than one short poem, article, story, essay or two excerpts may be copied from the same author, nor more than three from the same collective work or periodical volume during one class term.
  • There shall not be more than nine instances of such multiple copying for one course during one class term. [The limitations do not apply to current news periodicals and newspapers and current news sections of other periodicals.]

             The following shall be prohibited:

  • Copying may not be used to create or to replace or substitute for anthologies, compilations or collective works. Such replacement or substitution occurs regardless of whether copies of various works or excerpts are accumulated or are reproduced and used separately.
  • There shall be no copying of or from works intended to be "consumable" in the course of study or of teaching. These include workbooks, exercises, standardized tests and test booklets and answer sheets and like consumable material.
  • Copying shall not:
    1. substitute for the purchase of books, publisher's reprints or periodicals;
    2. be directed by higher authority; or
    3. be repeated with respect to the same item by the same teacher from term to term.
    4. No charge may be made to the student beyond the actual cost of the photocopying.

Fair Use for Blackboard

  • When posting articles that can be found in a library database to a Blackboard page, the citation of the article must be posted with the URL link to the article's citation page. You can not post a link to the pdf form of the article. In most databases like EBSCO, JSTOR, etc., each article generally has a permanent URL that can be posted.

Fair Use for Audiovisual (AV) Materials

In-classroom performance of a copyrighted video is permissible under the following conditions:

  • The performance must be by instructors (including guest lecturers) or by pupils; and
  • The performance is in connection with face-to-face teaching activities; and
  • The entire audience is involved in the teaching activity; and
  • The entire audience is in the same room or same general area;
  • The teaching activities are conducted by a non-profit education institution; and
  • The performance takes place in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction, such as a school library, gym, auditorium or workshop;
  • The video is lawfully made; the person responsible had no reason to believe that the video was unlawfully made.

Fair Use for Course Reserves

  • Books, articles, etc. that have been borrowed through interlibrary loan may NOT be placed on reserve
  • Personal copies of a book MAY be placed on reserve for your students to use


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Avoiding Copyright Infringement

You can avoid copyright infringement by using all your own work, abiding by the fair use guidelines outlined above, or by obtaining permission to use other's works.

You may need to obtain copyright permission to:

  • Distribute a coursepack in print or electronic format
  • Post content on an e-learning system
  • Post content to an institution's intranet
  • Photocopy content for classroom use
  • Photocopy an article for library reserve
  • Borrow or lend material through ILL
  • Reproduce an out-of-print book
  • Use content in a private consulting engagement
  • Republish content in a dissertation
  • Use or republish content in university fundraising or recruiting, or in an exhibit
  • Conduct research for non-classroom use (e.g., during an instructor's private consulting engagement)

Investigating the copyright status of a work

There are several ways to investigate whether a work is under copyright protection and, if so, the facts of the copyright. These are the main ones:

  • Examine a copy of the work for such elements as a copyright notice, place and date of publication, author and publisher. If the work is a sound recording, examine the disk, tape cartridge, or cassette in which the recorded sound is fixed, or the album cover, sleeve, or container in which the recording is sold.
  • Make a search of the Copyright Office catalogs and other records or have the Copyright Office make a search for you.


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Links for More Information

Government Websites

United States Copyright Office
General information on what is and is not protected by copyright, how to search for copyright records, updates on legal aspects of copyright issues

Copyright Clearance Center
"Manages rights relating to over 1.75 million works and represents more than 9,600 publishers and hundreds of thousands of authors and other creators, directly or through their representatives."

Copyright Registration for Online Resources  (PDF)
Copyright registration information for online works.

Copyright Status of a Work  (PDF)
Circular 22:  How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work

Copyright Information Circulars and Factsheets
Contains links to government circulars and Factsheets which provide basic information about registration and other aspects of the copyright process.

University Websites

Copyright Quick Guide
From the Copyright Advisory Office at Columbia University:  addresses the relationship between copyright law and the work of the university community. Clear and comprehensive site; includes Fair Use Checklist and useful scenarios and court case summaries.

Copyright and Fair Use — Stanford University Libraries
Award-winning, comprehensive copyright/fair use information resource, containing charts and tools, including Stanford's Copyright Renewal Database, as well as charts and tools to guide you through Fair Use and Coursepack copyright permissions.

Copyright and Fair Use in Film — Center for Social Media
Describes and gives examples of fair use and best practices for online video creation.

Crash Course in Copyright
Includes a Crash Course Tutorial, designed for faculty to use to learn Copyright basics.

Harry Ransom Center
Contains the freely-accessible WATCH File (Writers, Artists and their Copyright Holders), which gives searchers information on contact persons for copyright holders for U.S. and U.K. authors and artists.


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