Common Copyright Questions

Will the University support me if I exercise fair use?

How do I make sure I have copyright protection in my work?

What is Creative Commons and how can I use it?

Is using this picture, quote, etc., a fair use?

Can you give me permission to use this?

When I ask for something through 7FAST, I don't always get a whole copy.  Why?

What are moral rights?

What are mask works?

What are the main exceptions in US Copyright Law to support teaching?



Will the University support me if I exercise fair use?

At the University of Michigan, individual instructors are responsible for their own choices in course readings and other instructional content - including the decision to rely on fair use when using particular materials in a course context.

Why does the University of Michigan take this approach?

This policy supports instructors' intellectual freedom in the instructional context.

Instructors are best informed about how important elements of the fair use analysis (such as the amount of the material used, its centrality to the original work, and most importantly, the pedagogical purpose in using the material) apply to their specific uses of copyrighted material.

Some people find the idea of making a fair use determination intimidating or frightening - or they are concerned about the possibility of getting sued about the materials they use in their teaching. Rest assured that:

Fair use is not impossible to understand. Some informational campaigns about fair use intentionally sow uncertainty and doubt, but learning the basics of fair use is well within the capacity of most teens and adults.

Fair use is central to the functioning of this and other Universities. Instructors making informed and reasonable choices about fair use in their teaching will have the full support of the University in the unlikely event that any legal issues arise.

Learn more about fair use elsewhere on this website (including instructional uses; general uses), or by signing up for one of our on-campus or online workshops offered at the Knowledge Navigation Center (search 'copyright' for upcoming sessions). We are also happy to consult one-on-one.

Unless otherwise noted, all content on the Copyright Information section of this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License. 

This web site presents information about copyright law. The University Library makes every effort to assure the accuracy of this information but do not offer it as counsel or legal advice. Consult an attorney for advice concerning your specific situation.

We wish to acknowledge the University of Minnesota Libraries for this text provided under a  Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License. Creative Commons License

How do I make sure I have copyright protection in my work?

You're in luck! All of your works that are “fixed,” that is, tangible, have copyright protection. While you can register your copyright with the US Copyright Office, you don't need to do so to have basic copyright protection. However, registration confers certain benefits and is easy to do; the US Copyright Office provides clearn information, directions, and forms to register (as well as a host of other information).

What is Creative Commons, and how can I use it?

Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that created a set of simple, easy-to-understand copyright licenses. These are legally enforceable licenses that allow creators to mark a work with permission to make a variety of uses, with the aim of expanding the range of things available for others to share, quote, adapt, and build upon.  Check out our Creative Commons Guide for more!

Is using this picture, quote, etc, a fair use?

Whether something is a fair use is a complicated question.  You need to evaluate 4 factors set forth in the Copyright Act for each situation.  Traditionally, courts favor educational, non-commercial, uses of copyrighted, but one needs to consider all 4 factors together.  Take a look at our Fair Use Guide which explains the 4 factors.  And feel free to contact us for help at

Can you give me permission to use this?

We can't give permission for you to use a copyrighted work. However, we may be able to point you in the right direction, help you determine if your use even requires permission, or help you figure out whether a work you may want to use is in the public domain (that is, no longer subject to copyright).  Contact us at - we are happy to help.

When I ask for something through 7FAST, I don't always get a whole copy.  Why?

The University of Michigan Library complies with all applicable copyright law when providing copies for users. Section 108 of the US Copyright Act governs library copying and interlibrary loan in the United States and provides qualified libraries with special privileges to make certain copies.  These library privileges come with important conditions and limitations.  As a result, sometimes libraries can only provide a copy of a portion of the work. This sometimes comes as a surprise to people who assume libraries can provide copies of entire works in all cases.   Keep in mind that you can make your own decision about whether your particular use would be permissible under fair use -- the law may permit you to make your own copy even if the Library cannot legally do so.  You may come to the library and make a copy yourself. Its perfectly legal for you to do so provided you comply with the law.  For more information about copyright and fair use, take a look at the University of Michigan Library’s Copyright Website at

What are moral rights? 

The legal theory of moral rights or ‘droit moral’ come from French legal tradition and is a creature of the Enlightenment.  Broadly, moral rights are associated with the personal reputation of an artist or creator, providing rights of ‘attribution’ and ‘integrity.’  Broadly the right of attribution means that that the creator has the right to have her name associated with her work -- or disassociated if the work is damaged or modified in a way that leads the artist to feel that the work is no longer an embodiment of her intended expression.  The right of integrity means that the work may not be changed, altered, distorted, or mutilated.  In 1928, these concepts were included in the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Work, which governs international copyright.  Moral rights are addressed in Article 6bis. 

American law recognizes moral rights in a very limited and specific manner in Section 106A of the US Copyright Act.  106A is known as the ‘Visual Artists Rights Act.’  This provision was passed only in 1990 as part of the US entry into the Berne Convention.  VARA only applies to ‘works of visual art’: a painting, a drawing, a print, a sculpture, a photograph produced for exhibition purposes only where the art exists in a single copy or in a limited number of copies signed and numbered by the artist. There is a long list of works specifically excluded from protection including works made for hire.  Essentially only artists who have not been commissioned to create an artwork are protected by VARA. VARA allows for these rights to be waived by artists under contract.

What is a mask work?

Mask Works are defined in the Act as: a series of related images, however fixed or encoded (1) having or representing the predetermined three-dimensional pattern of metallic, insulating, or semiconductor material present or removed from the layers of a semiconductor chip product; and (2) in which series the relation of the images to one another is that each image has the pattern of the surface of one form of the semiconductor chip product. 

What are the main exceptions in US Copyright Law to support teaching?

There are three main limitations to copyright protections for educators: the classroom teaching exemption, the 'TEACH Act', and fair use. These exemptions work together to provide educators a broad set of abilities to make use of copyrighted materials in their day-to-day teaching.  By understanding these exemptions, teachers are able to use copyrighted materials and to respect and fully utilize the protections provided to them by the law.

110 Classroom  Teaching Exemption 

Students and instructors are allowed under this section of the US Copyright Act to use, display, and perform sections of copyrighted works in a classroom setting without first obtaining permission of the copyright holder.  In order to be covered by section 110, the work to be used must be:

  • Legally obtained

  • Used for educational, as opposed to entertainment, purposes

  • Used in a classroom setting, or a setting traditionally used for teaching

The 110 teaching exemption does not cover all types of copyrighted materials, however, it does apply to many materials used in the course of normal teaching, such as:

  • Copies of magazines, newspapers, journals, or books may be distributed, provided that they are not done so in a way that would replace materials that students would otherwise be expected to purchase.  So, while a copy of an article from last week's New York Times would be covered, the serialized distribution of a workbook would not.
  • Playing music for educational purposes in the classroom is covered by the classroom teaching exemption; playing music for aesthetic purposes, i.e., background music, would not be protected in the same manner.
  • Movies or television shows can be used for educational purposes.  In order to qualify for the protections of the TEACH Act, the movie or television show must serve some educational purpose.
  • Still images, photographs, maps and other visual images can also be used, provided that the purpose behind the use is educational.

110 TEACH Act - Distance Learning In 2002, the Copyright Act was updated to reflect the growing prevalence of distance education.  Because of the wording of the classroom exemption, it was unclear what the protections educators had for distance education.  The TEACH Act gives some clarification and permits the following activities: Films and other audiovisual works may be transmitted digitally, but not in their entirety. Only a reasonable and limited amount of a work can be used.  This language is not especially clear or definite, so instructors should take care to only transmit what is necessary for their  educational goals in order to stay within the protection of the law.

  • Still images, or other materials that are normally present in a classroom may be transmitted for educational purposes.  
  • Reading from a non-dramatic work, or playing music for purposes of distance education is allowed; however, this does not apply to dramatic works, such as plays.

The TEACH Act also has several important limitations as well:

  • In order to be protected by the TEACH Act, the work to be transmitted must be lawfully acquired; downloading a movie without a license and then making that copy available would not be a protected activity.
  • Materials designed specifically for distance or interactive online education, such as online courses, ebooks, and the like are not covered by the TEACH Act.
  • Materials that would otherwise be included in a course pack that a student would be expected to purchase are not subject to the protections of the TEACH Act.

Fair Use Fair use allows limited use of copyrighted material without permission from the copyright holder for purposes such as criticism, parody, news reporting, research and scholarship, and teaching.  The fair use limitation operates alongside the limitations laid out in the classroom exemption and the TEACH Act; as such, if a given use is not covered by those sections, it still may be a fair use. There are four factors to consider when determining whether your use is a fair one. You must consider all the factors below, even though all the factors do not have to be in favor of a use to make it a fair one. The four fair use factors are as follows:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work, such as whether the work is fiction or non-fiction, published or unpublished;
  3. The amount of the work used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole, such as using a poem in its entirety, or using one chapter from a long book;
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for the copyrighted work.

For assistance in analyzing these factors for individual cases, see the Fair Use Evaluator provided by the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy and Michael Brewer.  You have to apply the four factors to each fact situation.  Just because your use is for a non-profit educational purpose does not automatically give you permission to copy and distribute other people's work. While many educational uses may be fair, you need to evaluate your use each time you are reproducing copyrighted material — to show in your class, to hand out copies, to include in your writing, or to post on CTools.

I am a faculty member.  Can I put my article or chapter on my personal website? 

First a plea: keep a copy of your contracts the same way you keep your c.v. up to date.  It makes life much simpler.  If you have your contract, what does it contract say?  The assumption is that you own your copyright in any scholarly work you create as a faculty based on SPG 601.28.  Note that if you have a co-author, you share copyright (see 'Who is the owner of a copyrighted work?').  Also keep in mind that if your work is related to a grant or contract, those terms may control copyright ownership.  That said, if you sign contracts that transfer or assign all rights to the publisher, you have the same rights as anyone else to use or copy the work: the right to purchase or license and fair use.  Its pretty common for faculty to post their work on their sites, but technically it may not be legally acceptable.  What to do? Understand your contracts and ask for what you want before you sign.  Use the Author Addendum - this simple form reserves key rights to you as the author. Publish in open access journals.

If you’ve already signed a contract, ask these questions:  
  1. Do you have your contract? 
  2. What does it say?  
  3. Can you link to the item (whether from your public site or for CTools)?

Did you deposit it in Deep Blue?

Contact us at the University Copyright Office if you need additional help.

Can I put a copy of my book in CTools for classes I teach?

The place to start: your publishing contract.  What does your contract say?  See the discussion, above, regarding putting faculty scholarly works on personal websites.  Do not confuse 'out of print' with 'out of copyright'.  Say you authored a book now in its fourth edition. The third edition is out of print and will more or less suffice for a class you teach.  Do not assume you can scan a chapter or the book just because you wrote it and its not for sale anymore.  The item is still subject to copyright, and that copyright is probably not yours (or not yours alone). Think about whether your copy replaces a student purchase of the fourth edition.  Even though CTools is a secured site and class resources are only available to registered students for any specific class, think carefully before copying a book - even your own - for this purpose. 

Eliminate this kind of problem, and choose to publish in open access publications.  (Learn more about open educational at Open.Michigan.)

Exceptions: you reserved a relevant right in your contract (maybe you used the Author Addendum), you have a clause in the contract that allows you to terminate or revert rights previously granted if the book is out of print (typically for some period of time, you obtain permission from your publisher (assuming they are the copyright holder), or some exception like fair use specifically applies. 

How come you treat all works published before 1923 as public domain?

We do so because there is no possible term of copyright protection that could result in a work published before 1923 being still protected by copyright in the United States. Prior to the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act, the longest possible term of copyright available for books in the United States was seventy-five years. While the extension granted another twenty years of copyright protection, it did so only to works that were not currently in the public domain as of 1998. Therefore, if a work was published in the United States before 1923, it was ineligible for the extension and remains in the public domain today.

Does this 1923 date roll? That is, will you be moving to 1924 in 2013?

No. Because of the ways in which terms of copyright are calculated, it's not possible to have a categorical Public Domain date after 1923 for all works. 1923 is special because it is the last year where there was no possible combination of terms and extensions that could result in a work still being in its term of copyright protection. There is a handy chart that may help you determine whether something is in the public domain at Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States

Page maintained by Melissa Smith Levine
Last modified: 10/08/2015