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Guide to the Research Process: 5b. Copyright

This guide provides an introduction to the skills needed to conduct research.

What is Copyright?

  • A form of legal protection automatically provided to the authors of original works, including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works
  • An economic property right, not a personal or human right
  • It limits who may copy, change, perform, or share the works created
  • Rights are for a limited period of time and subject to defined limitations

Purpose of Copyright

  • To enable creators and entrepreneurs to receive financial reward for their works
  • To encourage further creativity and innovation
  • To facilitate the development of a thriving artistic and cultural environment, which will in turn benefit society
  • To advance the development of society through the proliferation of knowledge and ideas

What is Copyright Infringement?

The unauthorized use of a copyrighted work in a manner that violates one of the copyright holder's exclusive rights and does not fall into any of the exceptions to or limitations on the holder's rights.

Example: Copying from a copyrighted work in excess of the maximum allowed

A general rule of thumb is that a student can copy 10% of a work.

Exceptions and Limitations

The copyright laws of every country include exceptions and limitations to copyright - activities that you can undertake without any fear of violating copyright:

  • copying for personal use
  • quoting short passages of literary works for the purposes of criticism
  • photocopying for archival purposes by libraries
  • converting works into formats accessible by handicapped persons

Fair Dealing/Fair Use

In order to balance the rights of the copyright owner to reasonable compensation with the public's rights to the ideas contained in the copyrighted work, copyright law generally limits the copyright owner's exclusive right by permitting the use of the work without permission and free of charge for certain specified purposes.

In the US it is called fair use.

Fair Use is a doctrine of the United States copyright law that allows limited use of copyrighted works without seeking permission, typically for the purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. In determining whether or not use of a copyrighted work is fair, the following factors should be considered:

  • the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  • the nature of the copyrighted work - factual, non-fiction, new, or a published work as opposed to creative and consumable (workbooks, test) and unpublished works
  • the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  • the effect of the use of the portion of the work upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work - there should be no significant effect on the market

Copyright 101

Photocopying Guidelines

These guidelines provide a minimum standard of educational fair use. The guidelines represent three standards: brevity, spontaneity, and cumulative effect.

I. Single Copy
A single copy of the following may be made for an individual's own scholarly research or in preparation for a class:

  • a chapter from a book
  • an article from a periodical or newspaper
  • a short essay, story, or poem
  • a chart, graph, diagram, drawing, cartoon, or picture from a book, periodical, or newspaper

II. Multiple Copies for Classroom Use
Multiple copies may be made for classroom use as long as the copies do not exceed more than one copy per person, each copy includes a notice of copyright (e.g., Notice: This material may be protected by copyright law), and the copying meets the definitions of brevity, spontaneity, and cumulative effect, as listed below.


  • Poetry: a complete poem of less than 250 words or from a longer poem, an excerpt of not more than 250 words
  • Prose: a complete article, story, or essay of less than 2,500 words or an excerpt from a prose work of not more than 1,000 words or 10 percent of the work (whichever is less)
  • Illustration: one chart, graph, diagram, drawing, cartoon, or picture per book or per periodical issue


  • The copying is of the inspiration of the individual instructor, and the decision to copy the work and the time of its use for teaching are so close in time that it would be unreasonable to expect a timely reply to a request for copyright permission.

Cumulative Effect

  • The copying is for only one course in the school in which the copies are made.
  • Only one short poem, article, or essay or two excerpts may be copied from the same author. No more than three from the same collective work or periodical volume during one class term.
  • There should not be more than nine instances of such multiple copying for one course during one class term.

Note: Limitations stated above do not apply to current news periodicals, newspapers, and current news sections of other periodicals.

III. Other Restrictions

  • Copying should not be for the purpose of creating or substituting collective works or anthologies. For example, if an instructor cannot find a suitable textbook to serve course objectives, he/she cannot place a variety of articles on Library Reserve unless permission is obtained for the articles. Such action constitutes the creation of an anthology.
  • Copying of "consumable" works is prohibited (i.e., workbooks, exercises, standardized tests, answer sheets, etc.).
  • Copying should not be for the purpose of substituting the purchase of books or periodicals. For example, an instructor may find several chapters of a textbook extremely useful, but the cost of the text is too exorbitant for his/her students. Making copies of those chapters to distribute or place on reserve for his/her students violates fair use because such actions would affect the market for the text.
  • Copying should not be directed by a head of department, dean, or other higher authority. Copying must be the inspiration of the individual instructor.
  • Copying should not reoccur with regard to the same material by the same teacher from term to term.
  • Students should not be charged for the copies.

IV. Additional Guidelines

  • Copied material MAY NOT be posted on a website or in a public folder. However, providing links to the material from the website or the public folder is permissible.
  • A reasonable number of copies for Library Reserves in most instances will be no more than two, but factors such as the length or difficulty of the assignment, the number of enrolled students, and the length of time allowed for completion of the assignment may permit more than two in unusual circumstances.