What is Copyright?

Copyright is an intellectual property right allowing creators exclusive control over the use, modification and reproduction of original works in a tangible form. Exclusive rights include ability to reproduce, prepare derivatives, publicly distribute copies, perform and display work in either physical or digital environments. The law seeks to balance protection of creator rights while providing access to further scholarship and creativity.

Types of Work Protected

Copyright protects any type of creative work put into a tangible form including but not limited to:

  • Text
  • Artwork
  • Photography
  • Choreography
  • Film
  • Music
  • Sound recordings
  • Architectural designs
  • Computer code.

Works have automatic copyright protection once in a tanglible form and do not require copyright registration for protection.

What is Not Copyright-Protected?

Copyright does not protect:

  • Facts
  • Ideas
  • Works in public domain (expired copyright or placed by creator)
  • Government works

Fair Use

Fair Use is the doctrine of copyright law that allows for legal use of copyrighted materials without seeking permission. The four factors are used to make a reasonable determination of what qualifies for Fair Use. Each factor must be weighed and considered in sum to determine whether Fair Use applies.

Four Factors

Use the below criteria to develop good practices in ethical use of information. For a worksheet to help you apply the criteria to your specific case, contact a librarian.

Is the use educational or commercial?

Fair Use favors nonprofit uses with social benefit. This includes but is not limited to:

  • Teaching
  • Scholarship
  • Research
  • News reporting
  • Criticism
  • Comment

Is the work factual or a creative expression?

Fair Use favors the use of factual works, more often than it favors the use of more creative works.

What proportion of the work is used? How significant are the parts used to the work as a whole?

Fair Use favors smaller proportions of the work used. Fair Use also favors the usage of parts that are less significant to the work, i.e. not the heart of the work.

Could you reasonably purchase or license the work, rather than claiming it under fair use?

Fair Use favors the usage of works that cannot be reasonably purchased or licensed. Fair Use also favors usages that do not lessen the likelihood others will purchase or license the work.


The TEACH Act addresses use of copyrighted works in online learning environments to accommodate distance learning. Access of materials must be restricted to the online class environment for use with classroom instruction to qualify for acceptable use. The Canvas class website provides this restricted access with authentication. Materials should only be made available for the length of the class.

Contact a librarian if you have specific questions about acceptable use of copyrighted materials.