Literary Works

Literary works such as fiction, drama, and poetry have a higher degree of copyright protection than scholarly or journalistic works. Scholarly or journalistic works are generally intended to be realistic representation of facts, and facts cannot be copyrighted. A literary work is a more wholly imaginative creation, and is thus more fully the property of the creator. Reproduction of a literary work is therefore more likely to require copyright permission.

If you would like to copy or scan a literary work for your class, follow these steps:

1.  Find out when the work was written

If the work was written before 1923, it is in the public domain and can be used on an unlimited basis without infringing on copyright. Shakespeare, Dante, Austen, and Twain are no longer collecting royalities on their works! If the work was written after 1923, proceed to Step 2.

2.  Check to see if the library has the work

You can use the Library Catalog to determine which print and electronic books are available through the library. For help finding specific plays, poems, or short stories, contact a reference librarian.

3. Determine if copying or scanning the work would be fair use

Using an excerpt from a literary work in a class meets one of the four criteria for fair use (purpose) but fails to meet another (the nature of the work). There are two other factors that must be considered: How long is the work?  Would this use complement or compete with sales of the original?

If the library owns a copy of the work, then copying or scanning a short work or an excerpt of a work may be fair use.  Publishers' guidelines are not legally binding but may be used as a rule of thumb for an acceptable amount:
(i) 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.
(ii) Prose: (a) Either a complete article, story or essay of less than 2,500 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.  

Not more than one short poem, article, story, essay or two excerpts should be copied from the same author, nor more than three from the same collective work or periodical volume during one class term.
Copying should not be used to create or to replace or substitute for anthologies, compilations or collective works. If an appropriate anthology or collective work exists which would address the content of course students should be required to purchase it. 

If you own a copy of the work but the library does not, then copying or scanning a few pages one time may be fair use.  If you plan to use it again, you should order the work for the library.

If neither you nor the library owns a copy of the work, then copying or scanning even a small amount may not be fair use. You should order the work for the library before you use it or get copyright permission.

If it is fair use, you may copy the work or excerpt for your class or scan it and post it on Canvas. Be sure to include a complete citation and a copyright notice.

If you wish to use more of a work than is permissible under fair use, or to use multiple works by the same author, then you have several options for obtaining copyright permission or otherwise honoring the law. Go to Step 4.

If the situation is ambiguous, it is best to err on the side of caution and treat it as a no.

4. Getting Copyright Permission

You have several options for honoring copyright of literary works:

  • Have students purchase copies of the work through the Campus Store or elsewhere. The Campus Store can also help you identify anthologies or collected works with content appropriate for your courses. 
  • Obtain Copyright Permission which can allow you to copy or scan longer works or multiple works by the same author 
  • Ask the Campus Store to include the work in a coursepack (they will obtain copyright permission)
  • Put the work on library reserve rather than copying it.  (You may put library books or personal copies on reserve, but not interlibrary loans.)
  • You can use a short enough excerpt to qualify for fair use as above. 
  • Or, of course, you can choose to use a different work instead

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