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Copyright Tips for Faculty and Students

This page is no longer being updated. Please see the current CSM Library Copyright Guide for the most up-to-date district information regarding copyright.

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Faculty and students frequently have questions about copyright and how it affects teaching and learning. There are many resources available to help faculty and students remain compliant with copyright laws. Copyright law provides certain rights to the copyright holder and it is illegal to infringe upon these rights. These rights are not unlimited; there are some exemptions including the best known exemption 'fair use.' All uses of copyrighted materials in an educational setting do not automatically qualify under the 'fair use' exemption.



Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U. S. Code) to the authors of "original works of authorship," including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works. In other words, if you create an original work of literature, music or art, that work is protected by current copyright laws.

Section 106 of the 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to do the following:

  • Reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords;
  • Prepare derivative works based upon the work;
  • Distribute copies or phonorecords of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;
  • Perform the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
  • Display the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work; and
  • in the case of sound recordings, to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.

Sections of the 1976 Copyright Act state the exemptions to these rights. The major exemption of interest to faculty and students is the doctrine of "fair use."


Defined in section 107 of the 1976 Copyright Act, "fair use" is a limitation on standard copyright law. Fair use is described by the U.S. Copyright Office as use of copyrighted work for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research.

Four factors should be considered carefully when trying to determine whether use of a copyrighted item is a "fair use."

  • Factor 1: the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  • Factor 2: the nature of the copyrighted work;
  • Factor 3: amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  • Factor 4: the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

There are several websites available that more clearly explain the process whether use of an item might qualify under the fair use exemption. One of the best tools to help with this process is the CHECKLIST available from Columbia University.


Visit our CSM Library FAQs: Copyright for answers to common questions from faculty.


The following resource guides are useful for the academic community.