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Exceptions & Limitations to Copyright

U.S. Copyright law serves both private and public interests. The private interest is the author’s right to reap the benefits of his or her creative endeavors. The public interest is the dissemination and use of works by the public. The private interest is served by the granting of a bundle of entitlements to copyright owners.The public interest is served through the exceptions and limitations to those entitlements as described in Sections 107 to 122 of the law (Title 17 of the United States Code).

Fair Use


Fair use is the U.S. legal doctrine that permits brief excerpts of copyrighted material, under certain circumstances, to be quoted verbatim for purposes such as criticism, news reporting, teaching, and research, without the need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder. Each application of Fair Use must be examined on a case-by-case basis.

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Public Domain

Creative works that are no longer protected by copyright are said to be in the public domain. Once a work enters the public domain, users are free to copy, modify, translate, distribute, publicly perform, or publicly display the work without seeking permission.

What is in the public domain?


Public domain works can be used freely to support:

  • Teaching and learning
  • Creative inquiry and expression
  • Research and scholarship


Works enter (fall) into the public domain because:

  • Copyright has expired
  • Copyright owner failed to follow copyright renewal rules
  • Copyright owner deliberately places work in the public domain (“dedication”)
  • Copyright law does not protect this type of work (e.g. work produced by the Federal government)


NOTE: Just because a work is out-of-print does not mean that is is out-of-copyright. Just because a work is publicly available does not mean that it is in the public domain.

Learn more about the Public Domain: