This is the "Copyright Basics" page of the "Copyright and Fair Use" guide.
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Copyright and Fair Use   Tags: copyright  

Information about copyright and fair use laws for education. What can you legally use, how can you find copyright free materials, and how should you be attributing this work?
Last Updated: Dec 5, 2016 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Copyright Basics Print Page

Fair Use Checklist

This checklist can help you to evaluate whether your use is "fair use," or whether it requires that you obtain permission from the copyright holder.


Copyright Basics

Copyright protects "original works of authorship" that are fixed in "a tangible form of expression."

The fixed form does not have to be directly perceptible so long as it can be communicated with the aid of a machine or other device. Copyrightable works fall into the following categories:

  • literary works (which includes computer software);

  • musical works, including any accompanying words;

  • dramatic works, including any accompanying music ;

  • pantomimes and choreographic works;

  • pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;

  • motion pictures and other audiovisual works;

  • sound recordings; and

  • architectural works.

Not everything is protected by copyright law.  The following are categories of things not protected:

  • Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices, (but written or recorded descriptions, explanations, or illustrations of such things are protected copyright);

  • Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; mere listings of ingredients or contents (but some titles and words might be protected under trademark law if their use is associated with a particular product or service); 
  • Works that are not fixed in a tangible form of expression, such as an improvised speech or performance that is not written down or otherwise recorded;

  • Works consisting entirely of information that is commonly available and contains no originality (for example, standard calendars, standard measures and rulers, lists or tables compiled from public documents or other common sources); and

  • Works by the US government.


Copyright protection happens automatically whenever you create an original work.  What that means is that, as the author of the work, you alone have the right to do any of the following or to let others do any of the following:

  • make copies of your work;

  • distribute copies of your work;

  • perform your work publicly (such as for plays, film, dances or music);

  • display your work publicly (such as for artwork, or stills from audiovisual works, or any material used on the Internet or television); and

  • make “derivative works” (including making modifications, adaptations or other new uses of a work, or translating the work to another media).


It also means that it is illegal for others to do these things without your permission, except in cases that are considered to be "fair use." "Fair use" is the right of the public to make reasonable use of copyrighted material in special circumstances without the Copyright Owner's Permission. The United States Copyright Act recognizes that fair use of a copyrighted work may be used "for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research."


Factors to be considered include:

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is for a commercial purpose or is for non-profit educational purposes;


(2) what kind of work is the copyrighted work (for instance, is it creative or factual);


(3) the amount and importance of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and


(4) the effect of the use upon the potential commercial market for or value of the copyrighted work.


Whether or not a fair use has been made of a copyrighted work is not always easy to determine and there have been many lawsuits to determine whether or not a use is "fair." Where there is doubt about whether something qualifies for the fair use exception, you should request a License from the Copyright Holder.


For more information, see

Information on this page taken from:



This LibGuide was copied as a template from Raya Samet from Hawken Upper School Library. Information has been added and updated by Jessica Schmitz and Jean Stelchek.


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