General Copyright Guidance

Guides for Copyright Information


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General Copyright Guidance

FAQ: How to use copyrighted materials without violating copyright law?

📍 Fair use of use copyrighted materials

Anyone who creates an original work--including books, articles, music, computer programs, artwork (including images/paintings/photographs), movies, videos, choreography, or architectural designs—has legal protection under U.S. copyright laws. An original work is automatically protected as soon as it is created. Even if it is found freely online, copyright may still apply.
Copyright law protects the right of an author, artist, designer, or performer to earn income and recognition for creative works.
Copyright law also protects individuals wanting to reproduce parts of a work for nonprofit and scholarly purposes. Reproducing includes photocopying, scanning or downloading as a file. Using a small portion of a work for scholarship or criticism is generally seen as fair use and does not require getting permission from the copyright holder.  Whether use of a work is considered fair depends on 4 Factors:
  1. the nature of the original work
  2. how the copy is to be used
  3. what portion of the original is copied
  4. the possible effect reproducing the work will have on the value of or market for the work
If you photocopy a few measures of music to include in your paper, that's fair use. However, if you make enough copies of the sheet music to give to everyone in the school choir, you are stealing income the publisher should have received from the sale of multiple copies and you have violated copyright.

A rule of thumb follows, with possible exceptions to follow:

  • Books: 10% or 1 chapter whichever is less.
  • Journal articles: 1 per issue of the journal
  • For content found online, it is best to link to the content rather than reproduce it.

If a book is out of print and the author/publisher has given permission, then Factor 4, the market of the work favors fair use, more than 10% or 1 chapter may be reproduced for nonprofit and scholarly purposes.

Portions of text taken from OMIS tutorial with acknowledgements.