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Copyright & Fair Use: A Practical Introduction for Students and Faculty

ABOUT THIS GUIDE

This Libguide is intended to inform students and faculty about fair use of works protected under U.S. copyright law. This guide’s purpose is to allow users of copyright protected information to make informed decisions when using the work of others, and does not constitute legal advice.

Copyright law is codified in the U.S. Code under Title 17. If you would like information about copyright that is beyond this guide, please visit www.copyright.gov.

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WHAT KIND OF WORK IS PROTECTED UNDER COPYRIGHT LAW?

U.S. copyright law protects “original works of authorship” for a particular period of time. Copyright protection is automatic upon the creation of an original work of authorship that is fixed in a tangible medium from which it can be perceived. Although there are compelling reasons for a creator of such work to choose to register with the U.S. Copyright Office, it is not required that a work be registered to be protected. 

Eligible works include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Books
  • Written Papers
  • Magazines
  • Compact Disks
  • MP3 Files
  • Sculptures, Paintings, and Graphic Art
  • Movies

Works that are created and qualify for copyright protection give the owner of the copyright a series of rights over the copy and distribution of that work. Generally, the copyright owner is the artist who created the work unless a contract or employment relationship say otherwise. 

WHAT RIGHTS DOES A COPYRIGHT OWNER HAVE?

An area of particular concern for students and faculty is often whether a book, article, or section thereof can be copied.  A person or entity that owns the Copyright to a work of authorship also holds a series of exclusive rights to the work, some of which may be infringed by another person’s use of the work. These exclusive rights are:

  1. The Right to Make Copies
  2. The Right to Prepare Derivative Works
  3. The Right to Distribute Copies by Sale, Rental, Lease, or Lending
  4. The Right to Perform the Work Publicly
  5. The Right to Display the Work Publicly
  6. The Right to Perform the Work Publicly by means of a Digital Audio Transmission of a Sound Recording

Notice that the first exclusive right of a copyright holder is the right to make copies.Often, students and faculty wish to make copies of a book for their own academic use. This is act is most likely "fair use" so long as a small portion of the book is copied for educational purposes.

The fair use is explained in greater detail in the next section, but it is important to highlight a major misconception about fair use: just because you are making copies for a non-commercial and not-for-profit purpose, does not automatically mean your actions fall under “fair use.”