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.

Educational Fair Use FAQ

What is fair use?

Fair use allows for the limited right of non-copyright holders to copy, excerpt, or reproduce limited portions of copyrighted material under a specific set of circumstances.

When can fair use be applied?

It must be emphasized that there are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to fair use; however, in general, one can claim fair use when the use of copyright materials is used for educational purposes or to otherwise promote innovation in a scientific or artistic discipline. It is typically easier to claim fair use of nonfiction materials than fictional or creative work.

If you're not sure whether the materials you plan to use will be covered by fair use doctrine, you can use the American Library Association's interactive Fair Use Evaluator.

How much can I copy/excerpt/reproduce when claiming fair use?

A 2012 decision stemming from a lawsuit filed by several academic presses against Georgia State University set a loose upper limit of 10 percent of a work (for books with ten or fewer chapters or which don't have chapters ) or one chapter (for books with more than ten chapters); however, that ruling was reversed in 2014, and the law does not currently strictly define how much copyrighted material one can use under the fair use doctrine. In general, however, less is best.

On the other hand, use of entire journal articles is permitted.

Are there differences in how I treat copyrighted material in a physical classroom and online?

Yes. Fair use protects those using copyrighted material in an online learning environment, just as it does in the physical classroom. However, when a professor excerpts or broadcasts copyrighted material in a physical classroom, the material theoretically doesn't leave the classroom, or has a finite life if it does leave the classroom (as in the case of a photocopy, which will typically be discarded).

Electronic materials, however, can be forwarded, posted, broadcast, etc. in perpetuity without degradation, which would be in breach of fair use doctrine. To address these concerns, the TEACH Act was enacted in 2002 with more specific rules and restrictions as to how copyrighted material can be used in an online educational environment. Here is a quick summary of how the TEACH Act impacts academic institutions.

In short, the TEACH Act states that access to copyrighted content should be restricted to students and faculty in a particular class; should be password protected; and should be removed or archived at the end of the class. If you're using Canvas and legally obtained resources, such as those obtained through Piedmont's library, the content will be automatically restricted, since a password is required to log into Piedmont's Canvas courses and to access Piedmont's library databases. Faculty should remove copyrighted content from course materials at the end of a semester, since students can access previous Canvas courses in which they were enrolled.

Do I have to cite materials when claiming fair use? How is plagiarism different from copyright infringement?

Plagiarism is the copying of materials without proper attribution, or intentionally claiming those materials as your own.

Copyright infringement is the copying of materials without permission. When you copy or cite any material that you didn't create--regardless of whether you have permission or a license to use that material, or even if a work is in the public domain--you must provide proper attribution.

The Copyright Clearance Center on Fair Use

This video from the Copyright Clearance Center offers a concise animated film on fair use of video on college campuses. Note that the terms of this video's use are clearly defined on the page--linking to this is allowed, but embedding is not!<