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Copyright Primer

Fair Use Checklist

Use this Fair Use Checklist, based on work by Kenneth Crews, Columbia University, to determine whether you may make copies of works protected by copyright without having to obtain permission of the copyright holders.

The following is taken from: Crews, K.D. (2005). Copyright law for librarians and educators: Creative strategies and practical solutions. Chicago: American Library Association.

How long do copyrights last?

  • Most new works are protected for the life of the author plus 70 years.
  • Current law no longer requires the formalities of notice or registration for copyright protection.

What works are not protected by copyright law?

  • Ideas and facts
  • Works of the U.S. government
  • Works with expired copyright

Who owns the copyright?

  • The creator of a new work is the copyright owner.
  • Copyrights may be transferred by means of a written document signed by the copyright owner.
  • Two or more authors working together may be joint copyright owners.

What are the rights of copyright owners?

  • Section 106 of the Copyright Act: copyright owners have the exclusive rights to:
    • reproduce the work
    • distribute the work
    • prepare derivative works
    • publicly display the work
    • publicly perform the work

What are the exceptions to the rights of copyright owners ?

  • Fair use is the most important exception.
  • Many other exceptions also exist (library copying, public displays, performances in face-to-face teaching, TEACH Act, among others).
  • Congress continues to enact new exceptions, creating new opportunities to use copyrighted works.

What is fair use?

  • Section 107 of the Copyright Act: In determing whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use, the factors to be considered shall include:
    • the purpose of the use
    • the nature of the copyrighted work
    • the amount of the work used
    • the effect of the use on the potential market for, or value of, the original work.
  • Fair use allows the public to use copyrighted works (uses that otherwise might be infringement), especially for advancing knowledge or to serve some other important social objective.
  • It has no definite boundaries, and each case must be evaluated on its own merit.

Principles for working with fair use

  • You need to evaluate and apply all four factors, but you do not need to satisfy all of them. Look for balance; overall, do the factors lean in favor of or against fair use.
  • Application of fair use depends on the specifics of each situation. If you change the facts, you need to re-evalutate fair use.
  • If use is not fair, remember the other statutory exceptions to the rights of owners. You only need to comply with one to make your use lawful.
  • If your use is not within any of the exceptions, permission from the copyright owner is an important option.
  • Act in good faith.

Online copyright resources

Updated 08-Aug-2012 LGC