Skip to Main Content

Copyright and Fair Use

This guide provides resources and information about copyright and fair use.

Frequently Asked Questions

Copyright is complex. Below are some answers to frequently asked questions, as well as general information. This information is not legal advice and should not be construed as such.

Common Questions

Though there are limited exceptions for classroom instruction and fair use, not all uses of copyrighted works will fit those criteria. Exceptions must be applied on a case-by-case basis to each work you intend to use. This means you must evaluate each work you intend to use and make a determination as to whether an exception applies. 

Copyright still applies to online materials, even if they are freely or widely available. 

Look on the webpage to see if there is information on how to use the work or obtain permission, and use those guidelines if they exist. 

No, works can still be protected under copyright even if they don’t clearly have a copyright notice or symbol affixed to them. 

If you are planning on showing a movie in a place that is open to the public, or anyone other than a small group of acquaintances, your showing would be considered a “public performance” and may need  public performance rights.   

You would not need public performance rights (PPR) if the film were legally obtained and one of the following criteria applies:  

  • The film is being shown as part of face-to-face live instruction activities in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction  

  • The film came with a license expressly authorizing it to be shown in the manner intended   

  • The film is in the public domain  

If none of those criteria is applicable, you need a public performance license to show the intended film. Check with the library if you need assistance determining if your film selection has PPR or if you need help obtaining them.  

How Much Can I Use?

Common guidance is a single chapter from a book, or no more than ten percent of the work.

Common guidance is a single article from a journal issue or newspaper. 

Common guidance is a single chart, diagram, drawing, cartoon, or picture from a book, journal, or newspaper; when fair use is applied. 

Permissions are generally required for any commercial or published use.

Common guidance is a single poem, essay, or short story from an individual collected work.

A poem less than 250 words (printed on less than two pages), or if the poem is longer, an excerpt of not more than 250 words. 

Permission is frequently required—whether found in print or readily available over the internet— if the item was originally prepared by someone else; or you modified, adapted, or otherwise based your work on an item originally created by someone else.

Common guidance is up to ten percent or three minutes, whichever is less. 

You may need public performance (PPR) rights to show media, unless it is for face-to-face instruction or through limited password protected online access for instruction. PPR are not automatic with each video/DVD. Check with the library for help determining if your selection has PPR or help with permission(s).

Common guidance is ten percent or less of a musical score. 

For music recordings, you may wish to obtain permissions or licensing for use if intending to use outside of reasonable, limited portions for fair use or instructional purposes. 

Guidance regarding producing copies of student performances can be found in Circular 21 from the U.S. Copyright Office. 

Other Works Available

If a work is in the public domain, it is free for the public to use. Works can be in the public domain if their copyright has expired, they never had copyright protection, or the author waived all copyright restrictions. Anyone can use a public domain work without obtaining permission.

A work is likely to be in the public domain if one of the following apply:

  • Published before 1923 
  • Published prior to 1964, but the copyright was not renewed (*a requirement until 1978) 
  • Published prior to March 1, 1989, without a proper copyright notice (when that was required)

Unfortunately, there is no list of all works that are definitively in the public domain. A detailed chart of potential conditions for public domain works can be found at the link below. 

Open access literature is online, free, and has limited or no copyright and licensing restrictions. When using such material, make sure to note the terms of the particular license. These will explain the manner in which you are permitted to use the work without obtaining permissions.

Open access material is often available under a Creative Commons license. A key component of the use of such material is using proper attribution. Attribution is a condition of every CC license. More information on Creative Commons is available on the CC page of this guide, and at the below links. 


The information contained within this guide is for informational and instructional purposes only. It is not legal advice.

Request Assistance

Usage Guidelines

The guidelines on this page are provided for reference, consistent with common practice. These guidelines stem from the Agreement on Guidelines for Classroom Copying in Not-For-Profit Educational Institutions, and are found in the U.S. Copyright Office circular entitled Reproduction of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians

Keep in mind, however, that there are no laws specifying the number of words, pages, or percentage of work that would be permitted. In a fair use assessment, you should consider the amount of work to be used in relation to the work as a whole, as well as the other factors.