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Fair use is a provision of the Copyright Act that allows certain uses of copyrighted works, such as making and distributing copies of protected material, without permission. The concept of fair use evolved over time as judges made case-by-case exceptions to copyright to accommodate uses that seemed legitimate and justifiable regardless of the copyright holder’s apparent rights. Typical early fair uses involved criticism, commentary, and uses in an educational or scholarly context. In 1978, after passage of the 1976 revision of the Copyright Act, fair use became part of the text of the act—it’s codified at Section 107. In recent years, fair use has been a valuable way to accommodate innovative new uses that involve technology, such as streaming videos, internet search engines, reverse engineering of software, and the like.

What you CAN do as an educator:

  1. You can copy anything for personal use
  2. If you own it, you can copy and share for educational purposes (there’s no limit to the number of copies you can share) However, you still cannot make money from it.
  3. If you don’t own it, you can “sample” or use as a “supplement.”  However, if you use a significant amount of the work, or use it for an extended period, you should purchase it.
  4. In addition to sharing in the classroom, you can place items on reserve in the Library and post on your Canvas space.  You must complete a reserve form for items to be placed on reserve.  You cannot, however, share you Netflix, Amazon Prime or any other streaming service passwords with your students.
  5. You can request permission to use a copyrighted work.  There are several ways you can go about this.
    1. Contact the author or publisher by regular mail or email.  An email that grants permission is acceptable.  Keep that for your files.  When contacting the rights holder, keep these points in mind.
      1. Be sure to identify yourself and the reason you will be using the material.  Be sure to use the word “education” in your request
      2. Provide beginning and ending dates you will be using the item.  You are more likely to get permission of the copyright holder knows his/her work won’t be out there for eternity
      3. Assure the copyright owner that there is no monetary gain.
      4. Describe your audience and mention that they have little exposure to the work you’re using.  This may increase the awareness of the audience to the work and prompt individual purchase.
    2. You can also go to the following websites in order to get permission to use a work:
      1. Copyright Clearing House (
      2. Swank ( which is geared toward movies and TV shows.

There are, things that are NOT copyrightable and you can use them whenever and however you want.

  1. U.S. Government Documents
  2. Ideas
  3. Processes and procedures
  4. Concepts
  5. Principles
  6. Discoveries
  7. Lists of ingredients

Here is a short video from the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society:

Review Fair Use @

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