In copyright law, the fair use doctrine allows limited use of copyrighted material for educational purposes.  The Copyright Act of 1976 gives four factors that must be considered in determining whether or not a particular use would be fair:

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

Therefore, copying or scanning an item is likely to be fair use if:

  • it is used in the context of a class for educational purposes
  • the material is factual in nature, such as scholarly or journalistic writing
  • a small amount of material is used (e.g., just a few pages)
  • the copying or scanning complements rather than competes with sales of the original

If a case meets all four criteria, it is almost definitely fair use. For example, copying a short article or chapter from a work which the library has in its collection and distributing it to your class would normally be fair use and is not a violation of copyright. You can do so as long as you give a complete citation and a copyright notice with the material.

Copying or scanning is not likely to be fair use if:

  • it is used for entertainment or commercial purposes
  • the material is creative in nature, such as literary or artistic works
  • a large amount of material is used (e.g., more than one article or chapter)
  • the copying or scanning substitutes for purchase of the original

Thus copying or scanning more than one article or chapter from a work which the library has not purchased is not fair use, nor is using such an article or chapter in subsequent classes.

For specific guidelines regarding the most commonly copied items, including help with making fair use determinations in more ambiguous cases, see:

If you would like to use a text for class but its reproduction is not fair use, you have several options available:

  • Obtain Copyright Permission
  • Ask the Campus Store to create a course pack (they will obtain permission)
  • Place the original on library reserve rather than copying it
  • Use just a short excerpt of the work