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Copyright and Fair Use


We hope that this guide will help you to understand copyright law, and how FAIR USE can affect research and teaching.

Copyright is an issue that reaches nearly everyone in our information-rich academic universe. We all must understand copyright to some extent, since failure to comply with copyright law can lead to substantial legal penalties for both the individual and the university.

This guide also includes a copyright and fair use, a copyright decision map from the University of Minnesota and a fair use evaluator for faculty.

Copyright Basics

Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States to the authors of “original works of authorship”.  Therefore, if you want to re-use someone else's work (even if it is for teaching or for a student paper) you need to check whether it is subject to copyright.  Unless the item you want to use is designated as "open access" (free to use) or in the public domain, you will need to check whether your use of it is permitted by copyright law, which usually means doing a FAIR USE analysis. In some cases you may also be able to get permission to use an item by contacting the copyright holder, which is not always the author!  For most published works such as books or articles, it is usually the publisher who owns the copyright.

Librarians can help you determine who owns a copyright and how to request permissions; contact for assistance

See the copyright office handout for more information

Copyright Law Defined

Copyright law, as defined in Title 17 of the United States Code, protects "original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression" for a limited period. Copyright protection includes, for instance, the legal right to publish and sell literary, artistic, or musical work, and copyright protects authors, publishers and producers, and the public.  Copyright applies both to traditional media (books, records, etc.) and to digital media (electronic journals, web sites, etc.). Copyright protects the following eight categories of works:

  1. literary works
  2. musical works
  3. dramatic works
  4. pantomimes and choreographic works
  5. pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  6. motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  7. sound recordings
  8. architectural works

Ownership of a copyrighted work includes the right to control the use of that work. Use of such work by others during the term of the copyright requires either permission from the author or reliance on the doctrine of fair use. Failure to do one or the other will expose the user to a claim of copyright infringement for which the law provides remedies including payment of money damages to the copyright owner.

Copyright for librarians and educators