Copyright and Fair Use

This Guide has been created to help students and faculty find information about Copyright and Fair Use in an academic setting. This guide does not constitute legal advice.
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  • Resources on Copyright Website of the US Copyright Office. Not only does the site provide the actual texts of Copyright legislation, but also resources for individuals looking into protecting their work and education materials to help users dealing with fair usage and the TEACH Act. 

    Creative Commons: Free, easy-to-use copyright licenses to make a simple and standardized way to give the public permission to share and use work. A great place to also find resources that you can use personally with easy to understand copyright permissions.

    Cornell University Library Copyright Center: A great resource for individuals looking for information on how Copyright works in the United States as well as how to navigate rights management.  

    Introduction to Intellectual Property: A collection of links put together by the National Paralegal College.  

    Stanford University Libraries: Resources on Copyright History and law, but also a large collection of copyright case opinion summaries, dockets, regulations, and legislation.  

    Taking the Mystery out of Copyright: A resource from the Library of Congress that helps users figure out which Copyright Standard a particular item falls under. 

    What is Copyright?

    According to, copyright is "a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works."

    Article 1 Section 8 Clause 8 of the US Constitution, also known as the copyright clause, grants Congress the power "To 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."

    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.


    How to obtain permission?

    Except in the cases of the copyright exceptions that we will talk about in the next tab, individuals must get permission from a copyright holder to use materials. Stanford University Libraries breaks this process down into 1) determining if you need to obtain permission 2) identify who owns the copyright 3) Identify what rights you need for what you want to do 4) planning ahead because getting these permissions can take months 5) contacting the owner of the copyright and negotiate terms and payment and 6) getting your agreement in writing. More of their resources can be found on their website here. For information about how this process varies depending on the medium you are working with, check out  

    Copyright permissions can be a pain, and sometimes you can have a hard time even finding out who holds the copyright. That is why the Creative Commons system of standardized copyright licenses is so invaluable. Words and Images explicitly state what someone can and can't do when using materials. The terms of the licenses can even be combined together to allow copyright holders to hold the exact license that they want. For example, the image below is Licensed under the Creative Commons which allows it to be shared on this page. 

    Image result for common creative license

    What is protected under Copyright?

    Copyright protection is outlined In Chapter 1 of Title 17 of the United States Codes as: 

    (a) Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. Works of authorship include the following categories:

    (1) literary works 
    (2) musical works, including any accompanying words;
    (3) dramatic works, including any accompanying music;
    (4) pantomimes and choreographic works;

    (5) pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;

    (6) motion pictures and other audiovisual works; 

    (7) sound Recordings;  

    (8) Architectural works

    (b) In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.