The purpose of this document is to help individuals understand copyright and fair use in the classroom. It addresses library and educational fair use as well as fair use exceptions made for research and scholarly work.

Providing guidance in understanding copyright supports the information literacy needs of our community. One of the information literacy standards of the Association for College and Research Libraries states that “an information literate individual is able to … understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information, and access and use information ethically and legally (ACRL, 2010, para. 2).

Copyright Defined

“Congress shall have the power to . . . promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”

U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, 1790

Copyright Basics

Educational Uses of Copyrighted Materials

There are several sections in Copyright Law that pertain specifically to educational use of copyrighted materials. The section that is familiar to most is Fair Use; Section 107 of Copyright Law. However, that is not the only section to be aware of. Section 110 pertains to limitations on certain exclusive rights so that performances and displays of certain materials may be made in the classroom. Section 110(2) pertains to using materials in distance education, aka, the TEACH Act.

There are also Educational Guidelines that were developed by publishers and others to create easily measurable methods for spontaneous use of materials in the classroom.

Each of these are addressed further below.

Educational Guidelines

Fair Use

Multimedia Use


Ownership of Copyright


These tools will help you determine if the work in question is in the public domain or not and perform a fair use analysis for those that are not.

Copyright Sliderule
An easy to use slide that helps you quickly determine if a work might be in the public domain based upon publication date.

Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States
A chart that outlines when works enter the public domain.

Thinking Through Fair Use
This tool from the University of Minnesota is based upon the Fair Use Checklist below, but includes room for making notes about your analysis. Once the form is complete, you can email a copy to yourself for your records.

Fair Use Checklist
From Columbia University, this site explains the benefits of doing a fair use analysis and how to maintain records of such analyses. It has many examples and explanations of how to apply fair use depending upon the type of materials being used and the expected use of them. A two-page checklist is provided for actual use. The checklist was developed by Kenneth Crews, a well-known and respected copyright expert.

Fair Use Evaluator
Provide you with a time-stamped, PDF document for your records, which could prove valuable, should you ever be asked by a copyright holder to provide your fair use evaluation and the data you used to support it.


These tutorials have been created to assist in learning about copyright and making copyright decisions.

Interactive Guide to Using Copyrighted Media in Your Courses

A Window on Fair Use
Brief video created by a graduate of the UMUC Certification in Copyright Management and Leadership.