Copyright and Fair Use
Although we have tried, to the best of our abilities, to determine copyright on the materials in our digital collections, copyright of some materials may still be unknown. It is ultimately the responsibility of the user to secure permissions when using material beyond fair-use conditions. For basics on these issues, download the brochure for Copyright, Fair Use, and the Libraries (PDF).
What is Copyright?
According to the U.S. Copyright Office, this form of intellectual property law “protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.” A circular, available courtesy of the US Copyright Office in both English and Spanish, expands on the definition.
What is Fair Use?
The Fair-Use Statute, Section 107 includes four factors for evaluation to determine if something falls under an allowed “fair use.” The statute is broad on purpose to allow for interpretation and flexibility:
- The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes [“educational purposes” can sometimes, but not always, be a strong factor that allows copying to qualify under fair use guidelines]
- The nature of the copyrighted work [a compilation of facts is more likely to constitute fair use, rather than a copyrighted song].
- The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole [the smaller the amount copied, the more likely that it will be allowed under fair use].
- The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work [content considered to have low market value may be a better candidate for fair use].
What are Public Domain materials?
"Public domain" refers to works that are available for unrestricted copying by the general public without prior permission. Material that resides in the public domain includes works whose copyrights have expired; works that were created too early to have copyright protection; works by the federal government; and works donated to the public by authors or artists.