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Provides a general overview of copyright issues for Goucher College faculty and students.

When may copyrighted materials be copied or otherwise used without the copyright owner’s permission?

The Copyright Act grants copyright owners certain exclusive rights with respect to their work. These include the rights to reproduce the work, prepare derivative works based on the work, distribute copies of the work to the public, and perform and display the work publicly. If you intend to exercise any of these rights with respect to a copyrighted work, you must obtain the owner’s permission to do so. For general information about copyright law, see 

Your use of copyrighted work may be permissible if it constitutes "fair use," if it falls within the "Safe Harbor Guidelines," or if it meets the Rules of Thumb. If you are still in doubt about your use of the materials after reviewing these sections of the website, feel free to contact the Fair Use Committee (x6032 or x6011).

The Fair Use Doctrine

There are certain circumstances under which it is permissible to exercise one of the exclusive rights of the copyright owner without first obtaining permission. You may use or copy copyrighted materials without the copyright owner’s permission where such use or copying constitutes “fair use” under the Copyright Act. Determining whether a proposed use constitutes “fair use” involves applying a four-factor test established by copyright law. The four factors are: 

1.  The character of the use (e.g., educational vs. commercial); 

2.  The nature of the work to be used (e.g., factual vs. creative); 

3.  The amount of the work to be used (a lot or a little); and 

4.  The effect of such use, were it widespread, on the market for the original or for permissions. 

It is not always easy to apply this test, and everyone does not always agree on the outcome in any given case.  The University of Texas has posted an excellent webpage that contains an explanation of fair use written by Georgia Harper, a leading expert in copyright law.  Click here to view that explanation.

Another good source of information is the discussion of fair use found at

Safe Harbor Guidelines

Because application of the fair use doctrine does not always yield a clear answer, educational organizations and copyright owners negotiated a set of guidelines to provide some certainty as to what constitutes fair use. Negotiators agreed upon and finalized the first three categories of guidelines below (Classroom Copying, Educational Use of Music, and Off-Air Recording of Broadcast Programming for Educational Purposes); these guidelines are part of the legislative history accompanying the Copyright Act of 1976.  

As part of an attempt to introduce rules for the fair use of electronic materials, industry representatives developed, but did not ultimately agree upon, the remaining three categories of guidelines (Digital Images, Educational Multimedia, and Electronic Reserve Systems). These latter guidelines are not as persuasive as the first three regarding what constitutes fair use. Nevertheless, all six sets of guidelines probably represent the minimum limits of fair use and are intended in this policy to describe a “safe harbor” for users, not to define all possible practices of fair use. It is thus possible that a particular use may exceed these guidelines, yet still constitute fair use under the Copyright Act. 

1. Classroom Copying (, page 8)

These guidelines are perhaps the most important, because they cover the use of traditional educational materials, such as articles and book excerpts, which are most often used in the classroom. They also apply to the use of reserve materials. 

The guidelines, which you should read, emphasize three general principles, summarized below :

Brevity means your copies should not constitute a substantial portion of the total work. Acceptable examples include:

* a chapter from a book.
* an essay, poem, or story from a collected work.
* an article, essay, poem, or story from a periodical or newspaper.
* a cartoon, chart, diagram, drawing, graph, or picture from a book, newspaper, or periodical.
* excerpts of sheet music if they do not constitute a performable unit and do not exceed 10% of the work. 

Cumulative effect means copies should not have a detrimental effect on the market. You should avoid, for example: 

* copying an item for more than one course in the college.
* copying more than one work from the same author.
* making more than three copies from the same collective work or periodical volume during one class term. 

Spontaneity means you lack adequate time between the decision to use a work and the time needed to gain permission for its scheduled use. Reusing material cannot be considered spontaneous.

2. Educational Use of Music

(, page 7-9); 

3. Off-Air Recording of Broadcast Programming for Educational Purposes

The negotiated guidelines applicable to Off-Air Recording of Broadcast Programming for Educational Purposes can be found at the Library of Congress website (page 23).

4. Digital Images

These guidelines were proposed but not adopted. They can be found on the website of the University of Texas.

5. Educational Multimedia

These guidelines were proposed but not adopted. They can be found on the website of the University of Texas.

6. Electronic Reserve Systems

These guidelines were proposed but not adopted. They can be found on the website of the University of Texas.


Library & Archival Use

Goucher College’s Library is authorized to exercise special rights in addition to fair use. These rights are described in Section 108 of the copyright law and include:

1.  Archiving lost, stolen, damaged, or deteriorating works (see;

2.  Making copies for library users (see; and

3.  Making copies for other libraries’ users (interlibrary loan) (see

Composition & Role of the Fair Use Committee

The president annually appoints three individuals to serve on the  Fair Use Committee. The committee consists of two representatives from the faculty and one representative from the administration. A representative from the Office of General Counsel shall serve the committee in an advisory role. 

If you wish to obtain assistance in determining whether your proposed use of copyrighted material constitutes fair use within the meaning of the Copyright Act, you should contact the Fair Use Committee for an opinion by sending your inquiry to the General Counsel’s Office (; x6011), from which it will be directed to the committee.  If the committee determines that the proposed use constitutes fair use, and you use the material in the proposed way, you will be defended by the college in the event that a copyright infringement action is brought against you. In the event the committee determines that your proposed use does not constitute fair use, and you decide to use the material anyway, or if you choose not to consult with the committee, the college will not indemnify you in the event that you are sued for copyright infringement. 

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