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Copyright and Fair Use

This guides provides you with guidelines regarding Copyright and Fair Use.

Copyright Guide and Fair Use

This "decision tree"  helps guide students and instructors through  the copyright process. 


Image courtesy of -Marcus- /

US Copyright law: Compliments of the University of Arkansas


Copyright Flow ChartCopyright law protects the exclusive rights of a holder to authorize others to copy, create derivative works, distribute, publicly perform, or publicly display a work. Most copyrights expire 120 years after creation. The work is considered in the public domain after that time and free to use. Works created by the federal government are not subject to copyright and are permissible. If faculty wish to use copyrighted material in an online course the use must fall under the provisions of the TEACH Act or be considered "Fair Use". If the use does not meet one of those criteria, faculty must obtain permission (written in most instances).




The TEACH Act (Section 110) of the copyright law outlines provisions for online courses. If the copyright issue does not fall under provisions of the TEACH Act it may still be allowable under "Fair Use". In order to claim use under the TEACH Act, a number of obligations must be met. In order to perform or display works in an online class it must be:


  • used under your supervision
  • part of the class session
  • part of instructional activities
  • directly related to teaching content


Three additional requirements must be met.


  • the online class must be restricted to enrolled students
  • there must be reasonable effort to prevent students from being able to save or print the work
  • there must be a general copyright warning in the course site


Fair Use


"Fair Use" describes the condition where limited use of copyrighted material is allowed without obtaining express permission from the rights holder. There are four factors when determining "fair use" of copyrighted items:


  • the purpose of the use - used to teach or create something new OR used for commercial purposes
  • the nature of the copyrighted work - fiction OR non-fiction
  • the amount of the work used - small portion OR entire work
  • the effect of the use on the market for the copyrighted work - labeled by the Supreme Court as "the single most important element of fair use"


Additional Material


Association of Research Libraries - Know Your Copy Rights Site produced by the Association of Research Libraries to make faculty members aware of copyright issues and best practices.



University of Minnesota - Thinking Through Fair Use an analysis tool that provides a checklist for "Fair Use" consideration

What is Fair Use?

Other Fair Use Tools

Deciding if what you want to do falls within the Fair Use can be difficult.  Following are some links to checklist and evaluators.  See if one of them can help you with this decision.  And, to be safe -- if it has an option to print the results, do so.  Then you can file it with your materials to show that you did your best to follow the law based on the expertise and advise of organization that should know.

Articles About Fair Use

Google Scholar

Google Scholar Search