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Resources for Faculty: Copyright & Fair Use

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Jeanette Parker
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Fair Use is not intended as a blanket protection that allows you to use anything at any time in an educational setting. There are guidelines and restrictions regarding the amount and types of materials that may be copied and used in classrooms that respect copyright law. This guide is intended to help you when making decisions about materials that you use while teaching.

Dugan Library affirms both the value of copyright as a public good and the right of educational institutions to make fair use of copyrighted materials in teaching and scholarship.  Faculty and staff of the college are expected to respect all pertinent copyright laws and to act in accordance with the principles of fair use when reproducing materials for class use.

Before reproducing a copyrighted work it must be determined whether or not that instance of copying or scanning meets the criteria for fair use.  The Copyright Act of 1976, Section 107 (see below) describes the factors which must be considered in determining whether the use made of a work in a particular case is fair use.  Dugan Library has established these Copyright Guidelines to help determine whether or not a particular use of copyrighted material meets these criteria.   If a potential use meets the criteria for fair use then the faculty or staff member may engage in that use without seeking copyright permission.  If a potential use does not meet the criteria for fair use then the faculty or staff member is required to obtain Copyright Permission.


Copyright Act of 1976, Section 107:  Fair Use

…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 commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

2. The nature of the copyrighted work;

3. 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.


Material for this guide is adapted from: 

Fair Use:

  • If the library owns a copy of the book, then copying or scanning up to one chapter is fair use, as long as this is a small fraction (i.e., less than 10%) of the book as a whole.
  • If you own a copy of the book but the library does not, then copying or scanning a small excerpt of a few pages one time is fair use.  If you plan to use it again, you should ask the library to order either the electronic or print version of the book.
  • If neither you nor the library owns a copy of the book, then copying or scanning even a small amount may not be fair use.  You should either order the book for the library before you use it or get copyright permission.

If it is fair use, you may copy the chapter or excerpt for your class or scan it and post it on Blackboard.  Be sure to include a complete citation.

*If you would like the library to purchase a copy of the book so that your use of the item constitutes fair use, please contact the library director.


If you wish to use more of a book than is permissible under fair use, then you have several options for obtaining copyright permission or otherwise honoring the law.  If the situation is ambiguous, it is best to err on the side of caution and treat it as a no.

Getting Copyright Permission

If you wish to use more of a book than is permissible under fair use, then you have several options:

  • If the work is available as an electronic book, ask the library to order an electronic version (you can provide links from Blackboard or a course website, or students can access it through the library website)
  • Have students purchase copies of the book through the bookstore or elsewhere
  • Obtain Copyright Permission which may allow you to copy or scan up to 25% of the book (from the publisher)
  • Put the book on library reserve rather than copying it.  (You may put library books or personal copies on reserve, but not interlibrary loans.)
  • Or, of course, you can choose to use a shorter excerpt or a different book instead

If you would like to make one or more articles available to your class, follow these steps:

1. Check to see if the library already has the article available online

  • You can use the library Journal Finder to check on online availability.
  • If the answer is yes then you can link to it from your Blackboard course or print out copies for your students.
  • If the answer is no then you must determine whether or not reproducing the article would be fair use, and go to Step 2.

2. Determine if copying or scanning the article would be fair use

  • Using a scholarly or journalistic article in a class already meets two of the four criteria for fair use.There are two other factors that must be considered:
    • How long is the article?
    • Would this use complement or compete with sales of the original?
  • First check to see if the library has the article in print using the Library Catalog. 
  • If the library owns the journal issue, then copying or scanning one typical article or a couple of brief articles is fair use.
    • However, using more than one typical article from a journal issue, or several articles from different issues of the same journal, exceeds the limits of fair use and you should obtain copyright permission.
  • If you own the journal issue but the library does not, then copying or scanning a small article of up to a few pages one time is fair use.
    • If you plan to use it again, or need to use more than a few pages, you should obtain copyright permission.
  • If neither you nor the library owns the journal issue (e.g., you got a copy from another library), then copying or scanning even a small amount may not be fair use.
    • You may use a very brief excerpt, but if you plan to use even just a few pages, you should obtain copyright permission.
  • If it is fair use, you may copy the article for your class or scan it and post it on Blackboard.
    • Be sure to include a complete citation.
  • If it would not be fair use, then you have several options for obtaining copyright permission or otherwise honoring the law. Go to Step 3.

There may obviously be ambiguous cases that fall into a gray area in terms of the length or number of articles used. It is better to err on the side of caution and seek permission in these cases. If the course is in progress and it is too late to obtain Copyright Permission then you may choose to use the article once, but if you use it again in future courses you must get permission then. Go to Step 3.

Special Circumstances:

  • If an article appeared before 1923, it is in the public domain and can be used without infringing on copyright
  • Most government publications are part of the public domain and can be used without infringing on copyright

3. Getting Copyright Permission

  • If copying or scanning an article would not be fair use, then you have several options:
    • Obtain Copyright Permission
    • Put the original on library reserve rather than copying it
    • Use a short excerpt instead of the whole article
    • Or, of course, you can choose to use a different article instead

Reproduction of works that are meant to be written in or "consumed' as they are used, such as lab manuals, work books, etc., can never be copied under fair use.  If you wish to use part of a consumable work for a class, you must obtain Copyright Permission.

Literary works such as fiction, drama, and poetry have a higher degree of copyright protection than scholarly or journalistic works. Scholarly or journalistic works are generally intended to be realistic representation of facts, and facts cannot be copyrighted. A literary work is a more wholly imaginative creation, and is thus more fully the property of the creator. Reproduction of a literary work is therefore more likely to require copyright permission.


If you would like to copy or scan a literary work for your class, follow these steps:

1.  Find out when the work was written

  • If the work was written before 1923, it is in the public domain and can be used on an unlimited basis without infringing on copyright. Shakespeare, Dante, Austen, and Twain are no longer collecting royalities on their works! If the work was written after 1923, proceed to Step 2.

2.  Check to see if the library has the work

  • You can use the Library Catalog to determine which print and electronic books are available through the library. For help finding specific plays, poems, or short stories, contact a librarian.

3. Determine if copying or scanning the work would be fair use

  • Using an excerpt from a literary work in a class meets one of the four criteria for fair use (purpose) but fails to meet another (the nature of the work).
  • There are two other factors that must be considered:
    • How long is the work?
    • Would this use complement or compete with sales of the original?

If the library owns a copy of the work, then copying or scanning a short work or an excerpt of a work may be fair use.  Publishers' guidelines are not legally binding but may be used as a rule of thumb for an acceptable amount:

(i) 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.

(ii) Prose: (a) Either a complete article, story or essay of less than 2,500 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. 

Not more than one short poem, article, story, essay or two excerpts should be copied from the same author, nor more than three from the same collective work or periodical volume during one class term.


  • Copying should not be used to create or to replace or substitute for anthologies, compilations or collective works. If an appropriate anthology or collective work exists which would address the content of course students should be required to purchase it.
  • If you own a copy of the work but the library does not, then copying or scanning a few pages one time may be fair use.  If you plan to use it again, you should ask the library to purchase a copy.
  • If neither you nor the library owns a copy of the work, then copying or scanning even a small amount may not be fair use. You should order the work for the library before you use it or get copyright permission.
  • If it is fair use, you may copy the work or excerpt for your class or scan it and post it on Blackboard. Be sure to include a complete citation.
  • If you wish to use more of a work than is permissible under fair use, or to use multiple works by the same author, then you have several options for obtaining copyright permission or otherwise honoring the law. Go to Step 4.

If the situation is ambiguous, it is best to err on the side of caution and treat it as a no.

4. Getting Copyright Permission

  • You have several options for honoring copyright of literary works:
    • Have students purchase copies of the work through the bookstore or elsewhere.
    • Obtain Copyright Permission which can allow you to copy or scan longer works or multiple works by the same author
    • Put the work on library reserve rather than copying it.  (You may put library books or personal copies on reserve, but not interlibrary loans.)
    • You can use a short enough excerpt to qualify for fair use as above.
    • Or, of course, you can choose to use a different work instead

Fair Use and Videos

17 U.S.C. § 110(1) permits “the performance or display of a work by instructors or pupils in the course of face-to-face teaching activities of a nonprofit educational institution, in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction….”

There are several limitations to fair use for videos:

  • this applies to physical classrooms only, distance and online settings are not fair use
  • the DVD, VHS, Blue rays, etc., must be a legally purchased copy (not taped or recorded)
  • the viewing of streaming videos, DVDs, or Blue rays from subscription services such as Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime is a direct violation of the subscription agreement. These are intended for personal use only and do not meet the criteria for fair use

If the library does not own a copy of a video you are interested in using for a class, you can request that the library adds the video to its collection. Please contact the library director.


YouTube Videos

  • It is permissible to embed and link to YouTube videos in a classroom or online environment as long as it does not violate any listed copyright restrictions.
  • As with any item used, a citation for the video should be clearly listed.

Government Documents

Title 17, Section 105, United States Code, provides that:

Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government, but the United States Government is not precluded from receiving and holding copyrights transferred to it by assignment, bequest, or otherwise.

The intent of the section is to place in the public domain all work of the United States Government, which is defined in 17 U.S.C. § 101 as work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of the person's official duties. By virtue of the foregoing, public documents can generally be reprinted without legal restriction. However, Government publications may contain copyrighted material which was used with permission of the copyright owner. Publication in a Government document does not authorize any use or appropriation of such copyright material without consent of the owner.

Since the Government Publishing Office serves merely as a printing and distribution agency for Government publications and has no jurisdiction over their content or subject matter, it is advisable to consult with the originating department or agency, or its successor, prior to reprinting any give publication. In those instances in which permission to reprint material from Government publications is granted, customary credit should be give to the Government department or agency which prepared the material. In addition, whenever a work is published consisting predominantly of work of the U.S. Government, the copyright notice (if any) must identify those parts of the work in which copyright is claimed per 17 U.S.C. § 403.


What does this mean for you?

  • In most situations, the reproduction of government documents, linking or other sharing of government documents is permissible. If a portion of a document is copyrighted, it will be marked.
  • A full citation must be included, as with all non-original materials used.
  • Photos are excluded

Public Domain

Print materials published prior to 1923 are considered to be in the public domain and can be freely used in the classroom.

 


Creative Commons Licenses tools give everyone from individual creators to large companies and institutions a simple, standardized way to grant copyright permissions to their creative work. The combination of tools and users is a growing digital commons, a pool of content that can be copied, distributed, edited, remixed, and built upon, all within the boundaries of copyright law.

A variety of licenses designate what you can and cannot do with the content. It is beneficial to understand the restrictions before attempting to use, copy or reformat something. 

Visit the Creative Commons webpage for explanations or to snag a copyright logo for your own work:

  • https://creativecommons.org
  • There are currently 6 different with different levels governing the use of the protected material.
  • All license types require you to attribute the source
  • Logos, widget/embed codes and detailed information is available for each type of license

*Information about the Creative Commons license taken from: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/