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Copyright and Fair Use

Information on copyright law and fair use in an academic setting.

Printed Materials

Journal Article for Classroom Use   

SCENARIO 1: A professor copies one article from a periodical for distribution to the class.

FAIR USE? Yes. Distribution of multiple copies for classroom use is fair use. However, the repeated use of a copyrighted work, from term-to-term, requires more scrutiny in a fair use evaluation. Repeated use, as well as a large class size, may weigh against fair use.

Posting Copyrighted Article to Web Page

SCENARIO 2: A professor has posted his class notes on a web page available to the public. He wants to scan an article from a copyrighted journal and add it to his web page.

FAIR USE? No, if access is open to the public, then this use is probably not a fair use. No exclusively educational purpose can be guaranteed by putting the article on the web, and such conduct would arguably violate the copyright holder's right of public distribution. If access to the web page is restricted, then it is more likely to be fair use.


SCENARIO 3: A professor copies excerpts of documents, including copyrighted text books and journals, from various sources. The professor plans to distribute the materials to his class as a coursepack.

FAIR USE? Generally speaking, you need to obtain permission before reproducing copyrighted materials for an academic coursepack. It's the instructor's obligation to obtain clearance for materials used in class. Instructors typically delegate this task to one of the following: clearance services, university bookstores or copy shops, or Department administration.


SCENARIO 5: A professor wishes to use a textbook he considers to be too expensive. He makes copies of the book for the class.

FAIR USE? No. Although the use is educational, the professor is using the entire work, and by providing copies of the entire book to his students, he has affected the market. This conduct clearly interferes with the marketing monopoly of the copyright owner. The professor should place a copy on reserve or require the students to purchase the book.

SCENARIO 6: A professor decides to make three copies of a textbook and place them on reserve in the library for the class.

FAIR USE? No. This conduct still interferes with the marketing monopoly of the copyright owner. The professor may place a purchased copy of the textbook, not the copies, on reserve.

Public Domain Materials

SCENARIO 7: A teacher copies a Shakespearian play from a copyrighted anthology.

FAIR USE?  Yes. The play is in the public domain and not subject to copyright protection.

Unpublished Letters

SCENARIO 8: A professor of psychology desires to edit and publish a collection of unpublished letters in the library archives.

FAIR USE? The answer to this scenario requires further information. Has the copyright protection expired? Are the letters subject to any agreement the library made with the donor? Can the author or authors of the letters be located? Is the library agreeable to publication? This is the type of problem that requires a detailed legal and factual analysis.

Journal Article for Personal Use

SCENARIO 9: A professor wishes to make a copy of an article from a copyrighted periodical for her files to use later.

FAIR USE? Yes. This is a classic example of personal fair use so long as the professor uses the article for her personal files and reference.


SCENARIO 10: A library has a book that is out of print and unavailable. The book is an important one in the professor's field that she needs for her research. The professor would like to copy the book for her files.

FAIR USE? Yes. This is another example of personal use. If one engages in the fair use analysis, one finds that: (1) the purpose of the use is educational versus commercial; (2) the professor is using the book, a creative work, for research purposes; (3) copying the entire book would normally exceed the bounds of fair use, however, since the book is out of print and no longer available from any other source, the copying is acceptable; (4) finally, the copying will have no impact on the market for the book because the book is no longer available from any other source.

SCENERIO 11: Using the same facts as explained in SCENARIO 10 could the professor copy the book and place the book on reserve in the library? Could the professor scan the book into her computer and place the book onto the World Wide Web?

FAIR USE? If the professor placed the book on reserve in the library, the use would be considered a fair use. However, if the professor placed the book on the Web, then the use is not a fair use. Placement on the Web allows unlimited access to the book. This would affect the copyright holder's public distribution of the book.

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