One of the most important aspects of copyright law is that there
are exceptions to the rights of copyright owners. The best known of
these exceptions is the Fair Use Doctrine which was added to the
Copyright Act of 1976. This doctrine recognizes that at certain
times unauthorized infringements of copyright "promote the Progress
of Science and the useful Arts." In other words, using copyrighted
materials "for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting,
teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use),
scholarship, or research" would be “the fair use of a copyrighted
work.” (U.S. Copyright Office, Reproduction of Copyrighted Works
Deciding what constitutes "fair use" is not always
straightforward, however. Rather than providing precise
specifications, Congress created a "flexible" law that would be
adaptable for many situations. In order to determine then whether
the use of a work is "fair use," the Fair Use Doctrine states that
the following four factors must be considered:
- The purpose and character of the use,
including whether such use is of a 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; and
- The effect of the use upon the potential market for or
value of the copyrighted work. The fact that a work is unpublished
shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made
upon consideration of all the above factors.
For faculty it is generally most important to keep in mind the
amount of copyrighted material being used and whether this use
impacts market value. Photocopying a short excerpt from a book to
enhance a classroom lesson, for example, would fall within the
realm of fair use while copying most of a book (rather than having
students buy that book) would not.
Because the Fair Use Doctrine is not specific, a Congressional
Report in 1976 established some guidelines to help educators comply
with fair use. According to this report, the following is always
- Classroom copying cannot be used to replace workbooks, texts,
standardized tests, or other materials that were created for
educational use (in other words, educators cannot usurp the profits
of educational publishers through their copying).
- There can be no copying of works intended to be "consumed" in
the course of study, such as workbooks, exercises, test booklets,
answer sheets, and like consumable materials.
- Copying cannot be used to create, replace, or substitute
anthologies, compilations, or collective works.
- Students cannot be charged more than the actual cost of the
- Copying cannot be repeated with respect to the same item by the
same educator from term to term.
For an in-depth account of the preceding description of the Fair
Use Doctrine, please refer to Reproduction of
Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians from the U.S.
The Mount has developed a Fair Use Checklist to
assist faculty in complying with fair use provisions. For practical
"rules of thumb" on what constitutes fair use, please see the Practical Tips for Ensuring Fair Use
section of this web site.
General questions about copyright and fair use can be directed
to Barbara Petruzzelli, Director of the Library, at 845-569-3601 or
or Derek Sanderson, Acting Access Services Librarian, at
845-569-3240 or Derek.Sanderson@msmc.edu.
If you are working with a more complicated scenario not addressed
in these guidelines, please contact Cathleen Kenny, Vice President
for Finance and Administration, 845-569-3210 or Cathleen.Kenny@msmc.edu,
who is liaison to our college attorneys.
Video for A Fair(y) Use Tail
"Professor Eric Faden of Bucknell University created this
humorous, yet informative, review of copyright principles delivered
through the words of the very folks we can thank for nearly endless
copyright terms. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License." Stanford Law
School, Center for Internet and Society, http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/documentary-film-program/film/a-fair-y-use-tale