Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Copyright and Fair Use

Copyright and fair use are very complicated issues with more areas of grey than black & white. This library guide will help answer some basic questions you may have about working with copyrighted print and electronic materials.

Copyright in the news

Up until October 2015, that YouTube video you posted of your Aunt Babs singing Happy Birthday to your mother might have gotten you into some hot water.

The original music for "Happy Birthday" was taken from a song called "Good Morning," originally written in the 19th century and long a part of the public domain. However, music publisher Warner/Chappell has long held that the lyrics were copyrighted in 1935, and that it has been the registered owner of the lyrics since 1988. A federal judge in California sided with the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Warner/Chappell which challenged the legal status of the song, arguing that its creators never asserted their legal rights to the lyrics. Warner/Chappell had previously earned a reported $2 million per year in royalties for use of the song.

Read more about the case in Managing Intellectual Property (October 2015).

Copyright on Campus

Copyright protects owners of intellectual property, such as texts, artworks, film, music, websites, and any other fixed form, from unauthorized copying, distribution, or broadcast. Without laws requiring proper attribution and, in many cases, compensation, creators of innovative content might be dissuaded from producing work that contributes to intellectual, cultural, or artistic innovation. However, work created by scholars, writers, artists, musicians, and filmmakers must be accessible in order for it to be useful and to inspire further innovation. Copyright law exists to bridge the rights of creators with the needs of scholars and future creators.

Copyright symbol


Unfortunately, the body of laws, regulations, and case law that encompass copyright is incredibly complicated. There are a great many areas that remain subject to interpretation, with some attorneys focusing their entire careers on just this field. While this guide aims to answer some basic questions you might have about copyright and how to manage it in the university classroom and the online learning environment, it should not be construed as a legal guide.

Copyright Clearance Center Resources

Copyright on Campus is a six-minute video production of the Copyright Clearance Center, the leading organization in the U.S. for learning about copyright compliance in all industries and for seeking copyright permissions. CCC offers this concise animated film as an introduction to fair use on college campuses.

Note that the terms of this video's use are clearly defined on the page--linking to the page that contains the video is is allowed, but embedding the video is not!

Copyright in Academia (a webinar just over 30 minutes long) is intended to provide a short, but in-depth look at important concerns surrounding the use of copyright-protected content within an academic environment. Included are discussions of copyright compliance in course management systems and e-reserves, and how specific copyright laws such as the DCMA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act, 1998) and the TEACH Act (Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization Act, 2002) provide refinements of existing law regarding copyright on the Internet and in the digital classroom respectively. Here is a quick summary of how the TEACH Act impacts academic institutions.

Note that the terms of this webinar's use are clearly defined on its page. You can linking to the page that provides access to the webinar, but to view it, you must provide personally identifying information to download it to your browser for viewing.