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Brief Guide to Copyright & Fair Use

Resources for the Southwestern community

Quick Guidelines

If your use of materials is in essentially the same way or for the same audience as the author intended (e.g., chapter of a textbook for students), or you use more than necessary to achieve a transformative purpose, you should limit materials distributed in Moodle, through reserves, and coursepacks by:‚Äč

  • Using small amounts of the total (general recommendation: no more than 1 chapter or 10% of a book, 10% of an article)
  • Using copies of materials that a faculty member or the library already possesses legally (i.e., by purchase, license, etc.)
    • For items from licensed databases, use the persistent link or stable URL provided for each item by the database
  • Limiting access to the appropriate groups, such as students enrolled in a class and administrative staff, as needed
  • Terminating access at the end of the class term when appropriate

Adapted from the Fair Use section of the Copyright Crash Course and Georgia Harper. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Fair Use

The Fair Use Doctrine is probably the most important exemption to copyright protections for educational settings, allowing many uses of copyrighted works for the purposes of teaching and research. Not all use is fair use, simply because it occurs in an academic setting.

The four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:

  • The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  • The nature of the copyrighted work
  • The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  • The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work

The distinction between fair use and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.

The safest course is always to get permission from the copyright owner before using copyrighted material. The Copyright Office cannot give this permission.

When it is impracticable to obtain permission, use of copyrighted material should be avoided unless the doctrine of fair use would clearly apply to the situation.

- From the web site of the U.S. Copyright Office

Fair Use Evaluator:  Helps collect, organize, and document the information you may need to support a fair use claim, and  provides a time-stamped PDF document for your records. Developed by the American Library Association, Office for Information Technology Policy.