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Information Research Strategies: Copyright

Copyright and fair use

It is important to understand your rights and responsibilities under U.S. Copyright laws whether you are using copyrighted materials in a class presentation, on a web page, or within your dissertation. In addition, as producers of scholarly works, you need to be knowledgeable regarding what your rights are as an author.

In this module you will learn:

  • The rights and responsibilities of a copyright owner
  • How to determine the copyright status of a work
  • The factors that are used to determine Fair Use
  • How to recognize under which circumstances you can use copyrighted works in your own classes


The U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 8 authorizes Congress to pass copyright and patent laws. The purposes of these laws are:  ". . . [t]o promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." U.S. Copyright laws are meant to promote the creation and distribution of expressions of creative works in the broadest sense.

Authors of creative works have exclusive rights for a limited time to copy, distribute, perform, display, and make derivative works. Specific exemptions are provided in the statute for libraries and educational uses. Beyond these specific exemptions, other uses of copyrighted materials that don't require permission are addressed under the Fair Use section (17 U.S.C. Section 107).  


Fair Use and Copyright in Instruction (UA Libraries)
Review this tutorial to learn more about the U.S. Copyright law and what you can do with copyrighted materials under the Fair Use guidelines.

Teach Act Checklist (from University of Texas)
The TEACH Act (2002) specifically addresses use of copyrighted materials in the context of online education.  


Public domain

Laura Gasaway's Public domain chart is a good starting point to determine what is in the public domain.

For greater detail, check out Peter Hirtle's Copyright term and the public domain in the United States.

Your turn


For a course you are teaching, you want your students to view selections of a Hollywood movie and an entire documentary.

  • You have required that your students view these items outside of class.  
  • You have requested that Library staff copy the DVD's available through the Library's collection and make the files available for streaming through your class site in the course management system (e.g. D2L).  

Question: Is this legal?  Support your answer with specifics from the Fair Use Guidelines.    

 Go to Padlet to post your answer.