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Copyright & Fair Use

Limitations on Copyright

In order to balance the needs of users with those of rightsholders and to preserve copyright's purpose to promote science and the useful arts, copyright law contains a number of exceptions.

For example:

  • Section 107: Fair use — Permits use of copyrighted material without acquiring permission. Examples of fair use include criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, and research.
  • Section 108: Library copying — Allows libraries to make copies of works for preservation, research and study, and interlibrary loan.
  • Section 109(a): First sale doctrine — Limitation on the copyright holder's distribution right that states that once a copy of a work has been lawfully sold, the owner of the copy is free to resell it, rent it, loan it, or give it away. Allows for library lending, video rentals, used book and CD sales, and the ability to give copyrighted materials as gifts.
  • Section 109(c): Exception for public displays — Allows the owner of a lawfully made copy of a work to display it to the public at the place where the work is located. Allows for display of art in museums and bookstore and library displays, for example.
  • Section 110(1): Displays and performances in face-to-face teaching — Allows for the performance and display of copyrighted materials in the course of face-to-face teaching at nonprofit educational institutions.
  • Section 110(2): Displays and performances in distance education (TEACH Act) — Ability to display or perform certain types of copyrighted works in the course of distance education. Use of 110(2) is subect to many conditions, including establishing institutional policies and implementing technological controls.
  • Section 117: Computer Software — Owners of computer software can make backup copies and modify the software so that it works on a specific computer platform.
  • Section 120: Architectural Works — Anyone may take and use photographs of publicly visible buildings without infringing the copyright of the architectural design.
  • Section 121: Special formats for the blind or other people with disabilities — Organizations that serve the disabled can reproduce or distribute copies of previously published, nondramatic literary works in specialized formats for use by the blind or other persons with disabilities.

Many of the exceptions in copyright law apply only to certain types of works under very specific conditions. The exceptions can be difficult to understand and apply without the advice of a lawyer.

In contrast, fair use is easier to understand, applies to all types of works, and is flexible. It is for these reasons that this guide recommends relying on fair use when deciding when and how to use (or not to use) third-party copyrighted material in online education.

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