"If you think it is "fair use," it probably isn't" -- Laura Galloway

The US Congress passed the most recent copyright law in 1976. It went into effect January 1, 1978. Guidelines which interpret the law are modified by court cases. This is a continuing process with copyright protection for electronically stored information under scrutiny at this time.

The holder of copyright for a work controls the right to:

  • reproduce the work,
  • prepare derivative works based on the original,
  • distribute by sale, rental, lease,or lending,
  • control public display of the work.

Works which are protected by copyright law include:

  • literary works including computer programs
  • musical works
  • dramatic works, pantomimes, and choreographic works
  • pictorial, graphic and sculptural works, including photographs
  • motion pictures, audiovisual materials and sound recordings.

For the first time the 1976 law provided for "fair use" by educators. Prior to this, all copying without permission was illegal.

There are four conditions for "fair use":

  1. must be for nonprofit educational use.
  2. fair use varies with nature or format of the work.
  3. amount and proportion of work used must meet specific criteria.
  4. use must not adversely effect market for the work.

The above four conditions are applied to all work with special criteria for each format or type of work. The guidelines for each format and type of publication should be examined and followed when copying for private study, teaching and classroom use.


The guidelines (in summary form) governing multiple copying of items for classroom "fair use" are:

  • excerpt of no more than 250 words.
  • article, story or essay of no more than 2500 words.
  • one illustration per book or periodical issue.
  • use of the work is the inspiration of the individual teacher.
  • decision to use work and timing for maximum teaching effectiveness preculded requesting permission in advance.
Cumulative Effect
  • copying is for only one course in the school.
  • not more than one work by an author nor more than three from a collective work or periodical volume during one class term.
Notice of Copyright
  • must have note of copyright stamp.
  • "This material may be protected by copyright law (Title 17 US Code)."
  • copying must not create an anthology.
  • no copying of "consumable" items like tests, exercises, etc.
  • cannot be repeated for same items by same teacher from term to term.
  • no charge to students beyond cost of copying.

Permission for multiple copies can and should be sought through the Copyright Clearance Center. The Busse Center Library assists faculty in doing so. To not obtain permission puts the person making and distributing multiple copies at risk for a lawsuit.


The "fair use" guidelines for photocopied items on Reserve are similar to those for multiple copies for classroom use. The four general conditions must be considered, especially the market effect. The stipulation that the same photocopied items may not be use more than one semester is important. Permission must be sought for subsequent Reserve use.

Multiple copies may be placed on reserve. The number is contingent on the number of students in the class, the difficulty and timing of assignments, and the number of courses which assign the same material.  At Busse Center Library the ratio of copies on reserve is one per twelve students (1:12).


Items which are no longer in copyright or were produced free of copyright may be reproduced without restriction. Some educational materials state that permission to copy is given or that the items are copyright free. Absence of a copyright mark does not mean copyright free. Out of print does not mean out of copyright. One should assume that copyright is held by someone or some institution unless there is a clear statement to the contrary.


Permission to copy should be requested and obtained in writing from the Copyright Clearing Center or the copyright holder (usually the publisher). Authors are rarely the copyright holders. The request should have complete citation, amount to be used, nature of use (when, with, whom), how it will be reproduced and the number of copies.


Just as most print materials are protected by copyright, so are most files on the WWW. Instructors should link to webpages of interest using MyCampus. 

Contact the Busse Center Library with any questions or for assistance.