Copyright and Fair Use

Copyright is a detailed and complex issue. As good academics we want to be sure our educational use of material falls appropriately within the bounds of copyright. The sources and definitions below are intended as guides and as starting points to this intricate topic. This information is not legal advice.


The definitions below were distilled by Ohrstrom Library. You may also wish to consult the official list of definitions made available by the U.S. Copyright Office.

  • Plagiarism: Presenting someone else’s ideas, quotes, and/or work, as one’s own. Intellectual and creative theft.
  • Copyright: The exclusive and inherent right belonging to the creator of a work to publish/rent/sell this work. Also the right to grant others the right to utilize this same work.  The “right to copy.”
  • Copyright Infringement: When a copyrighted work is used/displayed/distributed/published without permission from the copyright owner.
  • Fair Use: Section 107 of the Copyright Act addresses fair use. The doctrine of fair use contains various uses for which a copyrighted item may be used without permission. The U.S. Copyright Office has produced a brochure (circular 21) specifically addressing fair use in the academic environment: Reproduction of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians.
  • Public Domain: The body of work that is no longer subject to copyright. Generally speaking, works published in the U.S. before 1923 are in the public domain. See the PDF Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States  provided by Copyright Information Center at Cornell.


These resources are a good starting point for understanding copyright and fair use in the classroom:

  • Copyright: The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) has developed the brochure Know Your Copyrights to aid in understanding the junction of education and copyright.
  • Fair Use: A Google search for “Fair Use checklist” will retrieve many guideline-based documents including this one from the American Library Association (ALA). Faculty are strongly encouraged to review the criteria outlined in the recommended fair use checklists and to follow recommended guidelines. 
  • Plagiarism: The wonderful folks at the Purdue Online Writing Lab have crafted this page on Avoiding Plagiarism. Students writing papers are strongly advised to consult this extremely useful review of best practices for steering clear of plagiarism.
  • Print Resources: As an additional resource, the Library has a small collection of printed titles concerned with copyright, shelved directly behind the main desk.  A subject search for copyright in the library catalog will retrieve a larger list of library books on this topic.

Additional Online Resources







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