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Copyright Guide for Academic Use: Can I Use Work without Permission?

This guide collects useful resources for understanding copyright in the academic context.

About This Guide

This guide is a collection of resources to help you assess whether and how you can use a copyrighted work.  It is not legal advice and not a substitute for legal advice.  

Can I use a copyrighted work without permission?

If you determine that a work is the type protected by copyright and it has not fallen into the public domain, then you still may be able to use it with certain limitations.  For a discussion of particular types of uses and limitations on those uses, see the resources on this page.

Linking

Providing a URL to outlink to a resource is likely permissible under copyright law because it probably will not be considered use of copyrighted material.  See Ticketmaster Corp. v. Tickets.com, Inc. 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6483, at *20 (C.D. Cal. Mar. 6, 2003)("A URL is simply an address, open to the public, like the street address of a building, which, if known, can enable the user to reach the building.  There is nothing sufficiently original to make the URL a copyrightable item, especially the way it is used."). 

However, you should avoid linking to an infringing site to avoid potential claims of contributory infringement.

Fair Use

Section 107 of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 107, allows use of copyrighted works for certain limited purposes, such as teaching and scholarship, but only if the use is fair as determined by applying the following four factor test:

1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

2. The nature of the copyrighted work;

3. The 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.

Resources:

  • Limitations on Exclusive Rights: Fair Use, 17 U.S.C. § 107.
  • For a discussion and guidance on applying the fair use factors in an academic setting, see the Fair Use Checklist from Loyola University Chicago.
  • For help applying the fair use factors, try the Fair Use Evaluator from the American Library Association Office for Information Technology Policy.
  • For practical guidance on applying the fair use factors, see Copyright Law for Librarians and Educators, Part III: Fair Use, Call No. KF 2995 .C74 2012

Libraries

Section 108 of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 108, provides exceptions to copyright for certain types of reproduction by libraries for preservation, replacement, or private study.  Section 108 exceptions have conditions and limitations, so carefully read the statutory language before relying on it.  For example, Section 108 does not apply to systematic reproduction or distribution of multiple copies.  Also, Section 108 may not apply to musical, pictorial, graphic or sculptural works, or a motion picture or other audiovisual work unless the work fits within certain categories.  See 17 U.S.C. § 108.  

Resources:

  • Limitations on exclusive rights: Reproduction by libraries and archives, 17 U.S.C. § 108.
  • Section 108 Spinner - A handy tool for determining if Section 108 applies.  Source: The American Library Association Office for Information Technology Policy.

Classroom: Face-to-Face

Section 110(1) of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 110(1), provides a limitation on copyright for in person classroom uses.  Specifically, performance or display of a work by teachers or students in the course of face-to-face teaching activities of a non-profit educational institution in a classroom or similar instructional space is not copyright infringement, unless in the case of a motion picture or other audio visual work, the copy of the work used was not lawfully made and the person responsible for displaying it knew or had reason to know it was not lawfully made.  See 17 U.S.C. § 110(1).

Resources:

  • Limitation on exclusive rights: Exemption of certain performances and displays, 17 U.S.C. § 110(1).
  • Exceptions for Instructors - A handy tool for helping teachers determine whether the use fits under Section 110.  Source: The American Library Association Office for Information Technology Policy.

Classroom: Distance teaching

Section 110(2) of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 110(2), part of the TEACH Act, allows performances or displays of copyrighted material for distance education. Section 110(2) excludes from copyright infringement certain performances or displays that are part of transmitted mediated instructional activity, which may include course web pages. There are a considerable number of limitations and conditions that apply to the TEACH Act, which are detailed in the resources below. In particular, the TEACH Act only applies to performances or displays analogous to those in a live classroom. It does not apply to material that students typically purchase or acquire for their independent use and retention, such as textbooks or coursepacks. For further information about the TEACH Act, see the resources below. 

Resources:

  • Limitation on exclusive rights: Exemption of certain performances and displays, 17 U.S.C. § 110(2).
  • Exceptions for Instructors - A handy tool for helping teachers determine whether the use fits under Section 110.  Source: The American Library Association Office for Information Technology Policy.
  • Guide to the TEACH Act - Summarizes the TEACH Act and offers guidelines for the performance or display of electronic materials placed on course management software pursuant to the TEACH Act. Source: Office of Legal Affairs of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia.
  • TEACH Act Best Practices Using Blackboard - Explains the requirements of the TEACH Act and applies them to the use of copyrighted materials on Blackboard. Source: American Library Association.
  • TEACH Act - Discusses the limitations of the TEACH Act. Source: University of Texas Libraries. 

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