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Introduction to Copyright Law

The United States copyright law (Title 17, United States Code) sets strict limits on the making of copies of copyrighted works. Knowingly exceeding these limits may subject the copier to liability damages for infringement. It is our intention to follow copyright law as it pertains to the Learning Resource Center to the best of our ability. It is also our intention to inform the learning community of copyright law so that the Learning Resource Center may uphold copyright policy in the spirit in which it was written.

For a quick introduction into copyright, you can either read the information contained below or watch this video 

Fair Use 

The following is based on Section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976, limitations on exclusive rights:

Be aware that Fair Use provides limited exemptions even for educational use. The exact specifications are not given, but there are four standards which need to be used to evaluate each case.

  • The purpose and character of the use.
  • The nature of the copyrighted work.
  • The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.
  • The effect of use on the potential market for or value of the work.

Wondering if you can rely on fair use? Check out the Fair Use evaluator.

Duration of Copyright

Guidelines for Classroom Copying

The Learning Resource Center does not control classroom copying; this information is provided solely to inform faculty and instructors of the current guidelines. The classroom copying guidelines from the Association of American Publishers are summarized below.

Single Copies for Classroom Use

A single copy may be made of any of the following or any part thereof by or for any instructor or staff member at his or her request.

  • One chapter from a book
  • One article from a periodical or newspaper
  • A short story, short essay, or short poem, whether or not from a collective work
  • A chart, graph, diagram, drawing, cartoon or picture from a book, periodical, or newspaper

Multiple Copies for Classroom Use

Multiple copies, not to exceed one copy per student in a particular course, may be made by or for the instructor giving the course for classroom use or discussion provided that:

  • The copying meets the following test of brevity and spontaneity as defined below; and
  • Meets the cumulative effect test as defined below; and,
  • Each copy includes a notice of copyright.



  1. Poetry: (a) A complete poem if less than 250 words and if printed on not more than two pages, or (b) from a longer poem, an excerpt of not more than 250 words.
  2. Prose: (a) Either a complete article, story or essay of less than 250 words, or (b) an excerpt from any prose work of not more than 1,000 words or 10% of the work, whichever is less, but in any event a minimum of 500 words.
  3. Illustration: One chart, graph, diagram, drawing, cartoon, or picture per book or per periodical issue. 
  4. "Special works: Certain words in poetry, prose or in "poetic prose" which often combine language with illustrations and which are intended sometimes for children and at other times for more general audience fall short of 2,500 words in their entirety. Paragraph "2" above notwithstanding such "special works" may not be reproduced in their entirety; however, an excerpt comprising not more than two of the published pages of such special work and containing not more than 10% of the words found in the text thereof, may be reproduced.
  • [Each of the numerical limits stated above may be expanded to permit the completion of an unfinished line of a poem or of an unfinished prose paragraph.]


  1. The copying is at the instance and inspiration of the individual teacher, and
  2. The inspiration and decision to use the work and the moment of its use for maximum teaching effectiveness are so close in time that it would be unreasonable to expect a timely reply for permission

Cumulative Effect

  1. The copying of the material for only one course in the school in which the copies are made.
  2. Not more than one short poem, article, story, essay or two excerpts may be copied from the same author, nor more than three from the same collective work or periodical volume during one class term.
  3. There shall not be more than nine instances of such multiple copying for one course during one class term.
  • [The limitations stated above shall not apply to current periodicals and newspapers and current news sections of other periodicals.]

Prohibitions to I to II above

Notwithstanding any of the above, the following shall be prohibited:

  1. Copying may not be used to create or replace or substitute for anthologies, compilations or collective works. A prohibited replacement or substitution occurs regardless of whether copies of various works or excerpts there from are accumulated or are reproduced and used separately.
  2. There shall be no copying of or from works intended to be "consumable" in the course of study or of teaching. These include workbooks, exercises, standardized test and test booklets and answer sheets and like consumable material.
  3. Copying shall not: 
  • Substitute for the purchase of books, publisher’s reprints or periodicals;
  • be directed by higher authority; or 
  • be repeated with respect to the same item by the same teacher from term to term.

Do I Need Permission?

It is the responsibility of the instructor to secure copyright permission for materials. To secure copyright permission you will need to contact the holder of the copyright. If you are unsure of the holder of the copyright, contact the publisher of the book or journal.

In requesting permission, you may use the form letter composed by the LRC

Materials which do not require copyright permission include:

  • books,
  • the exams, syllabi, and lecture notes from the instructor
  • government publications
  • a single journal or magazine article used for one semester only,
  • a single book chapter used for one semester, works of art used for one semester,
  • material for which the professor or instructor owns copyright.

Materials which require copyright permission are:

  • a journal article, magazine article, or book chapter intended for use for more than one semester.
  • multiple chapters from a single book or multiple articles from a single journal or magazine, even if used for only one semester.
  • chapter, essay, prose excerpt, etc. in excess of 10% of the total # of pages, even if used for only one semester.

Reference Links to more information about copyright



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