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Copyright- OLD: Use or Not Decision Guide

Notice - Information on Copyright Does Not Constitute Legal Advice

Note that the author of this guide is not an attorney and is providing information on copyright only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice. For legal advice, please see an attorney.

Copyright Basics

Copyright is a set of rights given to the creator of an original work fixed in a tangible medium.

Rights include:

  • to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords
  • to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work
  • to distribute copies of the work to the public
  • to perform the work publicly
  • to display the work publicly
  • to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission

Fair Use Guidelines - How Do I Determine if My Use is Fair Use?

There are many checklists for fair use out there on the internet. A few are linked below with some being more detailed and others less. Choose one you like and use it to determine whether your use is fair use or not. Note that if you are ever sued, showing that you performed a fair use analysis before using the work can be beneficial in court. Of course, it is also beneficial not to end up in court in the first place.

Thinking Through Fair Use Guide from the University of Minnesota

Cornell University Fair Use Checklist

The following website has a good analysis of some past copyright cases that have won or lost based on fair use. They summarize the findings on each of the factors of fair use.

Columbia University Libraries/Information Services, Copyright Advisory Office. Case Summaries


Copyright Act § 107, 17 U.S.C. (1978).

Decision Guide

Is the work in the public domain (not covered under copyright due to age or other circumstance)?

Yes - Use the work legally!

No - Go to the next question.

Does your use meet the fair use guidelines (

Yes - Use the work legally!

No - Go to the next question.

Does your use meet the requirements of Section 110 of the copyright law (Title 17 U.S.C.) or the TEACH Act (

Yes - Use the work legally!

No - Go to the next question.

Does the library have a subscription to the material you want to use?

Yes - Use the work legally!

No - Go to the next question.

Is there a Creative Commons or other open license for t he work?

Yes - Use the work legally!

No - You will need to seek permission from the copyright owner(s), buy copies, revise your planned use, or seek further legal advice.


Length of Copyright

The magic copyright date for 2020: 1925

Works registered or published before 1925 are in the public domain and can be used without permission.

Exception: Sound recording - the soonest any sound recording will be in the public domain is 2067.

See for more information on when copyrighted works go in the public domain.

Section 110 & the TEACH Act

Section 110 of Title 17, U.S.C., the copyright law, allows the display or performance of works such as movies and music in a face-to-face classroom with a teacher present. An entire film or piece of music may be shown in a classroom as long as it relates to educational objectives for the class.

The TEACH Act is much more complicated and moves section 110 to online education. There are more conditions that both the instructor and the institution must meet to use the TEACH Act. See for more information. Also, in most cases, only segments of movies or music may be shown online.

Copyright Compliance Officer

Elizabeth Fox  

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 Contact:                       Office Hours:
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  605-688-5569              Friday 3:30-5:00

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