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Copyright and Fair Use: Policy

Overview of fair use, DMCA, TEACH Act, and recent court decisions

Winthrop University Copyright Policy

Statement of Policy

In recognition of its mission to further teaching, learning and research and engage in public service, Winthrop University is committed to fostering an environment that provides for the fair use of copyrighted works to achieve these goals while remaining in compliance with applicable laws. University users of copyrighted works are accorded the rights and privileges pursuant to 17 U.S.C. §§107 (Fair Use), 108 (Reproduction by Libraries and Archives), 109 (First Sale Doctrine and Transfers), 110 (Teaching Exception) and other statutory exemptions and limitations to the exclusive rights granted to the owner of a copyright protected work. While the University does not intend to unduly restrict the use of works otherwise permitted under law, it is the policy of Winthrop University to comply with federal copyright law and all related law codified at 17 U.S.C. §101 et seq.

All faculty, staff, and students must adhere to University copyright policy and are expected to seek consultation and advice from the Dean of Library Services when using the copyrighted works of others. It is the policy of the University to inform and educate faculty, students, and staff regarding federal copyright law, the rights of copyright owners, the legal obligation of the University to comply with applicable law, and the rights of the University community to use copyrighted works.


Copyright is a form of protection the law provides to the creators of “original works of authorship” for their intellectual works, both published and unpublished. Although the rights provided by the law to the owners of the copyright are not unlimited in scope, it is illegal to violate any of these rights.

Scope of Copyright Policy

The Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 101 (effective date: 1978), balances the author’s interest against the public interest in the dissemination of information in areas of universal concern, such as art, science, history, and business. The intent of this balance is to foster the creation and dissemination of intellectual works for the general public. 

Copyright protection exists in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or communicated either directly or indirectly by the aid of a machine or device. Works of authorship include literary works (books and printed material); computer software; musical works (including lyrics); video productions (motion pictures, videotapes); sound recordings; and dramatic works (plays). 

Statutory copyright protection does not include works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression such as titles, names, short phrases and slogans; works consisting entirely of information that is common property; and ideas, procedures, methods, concepts, principles, discoveries, systems, devices, and processes. 

Fair Use

The Copyright Act defines the rights of a copyright holder and how they may be enforced against an infringer. Included within the Copyright Act is the “fair use” doctrine which allows, under certain conditions, the copying of copyrighted material. While the Copyright Act lists general factors under the much-misunderstood heading of “fair use,” it provides little in the way of specific directions for what constitutes fair use. The law states:

Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106, the fair use of a copyrighted work,including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting,teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use). scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include – 

1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

2. the nature of the copyrighted work; 

3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted 
work as a whole; and 

4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. 

Notwithstanding the above, fair use copying of software is limited by 17 U.S.C. § 117. (17 U.S.C. § 117. Limitations on exclusive rights: fair use. Emphasis added.)

“Fair Use” is by far the most confusing component of copyright law. Despite what most teachers think, it is not a carte blanche license to do whatever one wants “because I am using this material to teach.” Litigation has established limitations on copies for “nonprofit educational purposes” guided by quantitative limits under item 3. Therefore, this term cannot be interpreted as a blanket license to distribute materials in an unrestricted fashion for academic useIn all cases, a fairly conservative approach to interpreting “fair use” is probably the safest course to follow.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (PDF) (DMCA) is a 1998 amendment to the Copyright Act of 1976 that establishes certain limitations of copyright infringement liability for online service providers (OSPs), including colleges and universities, when certain requirements are met by the OSP. The Act contains a number of other provisions, including prohibitions on circumvention of technological protection measures among others.


Since the passage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in 1998, the vexed question of fair use of copyrighted materials in university classrooms has become even murkier. In November 2002, Congress passed H. R. 2215, the Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization Act(TEACH) to update copyright law regarding the digital use of copyrighted material. Under this law, if both the individual faculty member and the institution meet a number of specific guidelines (see below), the Act permits digital transmission of copyrighted works for educational purposes without obtaining permissions. TEACH is more restrictive than the “fair use” regulations that govern print materials, but early indications are that the government may begin to use the TEACH standards of fair use to apply to almost any educational copyright case.

All of these laws are fully documented at

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