Skip to Main Content

Copyright & Fair Use For Faculty

What is Copyright?

Copyright laws are designed to promote creativity and innovation in the arts and sciences for the betterment of society by establishing and protecting the rights of content creators. 

Strictly defined, copyright is an owner’s exclusive right to:

  • reproduce the work in copies or recordings
  • prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work
  • distribute copies of the work - by sale, rental, lease, lending or license
  • perform the work publicly
  • display the work publicly
  • in the case of audio, transmit the work publicly through digital audio, which includes posting in Canvas or the Learning Portfolio

When the U.S. Congress defined copyright in Title 17 of the United States code in 1976, Congress attempted to balance a content creator’s need to subsidize their own creative efforts and the public’s need to use that work freely for scholarship, criticism or innovation.  By trying to accommodate many different uses and interests, the law recognized the conflict between a content holder’s ability to determine the conditions under which their work could be used and the public’s desire to use that material freely.

Unfortunately, there are no “bright lines” or absolutes when dealing with fair use assessment.  Fair use must be assessed on a case by case basis. Generalizations regarding a percentage amount that may be considered fair do not take into account the other factors used to evaluate a fair use. Decisions about whether a content owner’s rights have been “infringed upon” happen on a case by case basis. Researchers, faculty, and the staff who support them must make decisions about whether their use requires permission or can be considered "fair use."