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Copyright law sets up a balancing act, providing incentives to content providers to create new works, while ensuring that others can take advantage of that content for favored uses, including various types of societal or political speech (parody, news reporting, commentary), education, and further transformative creative works.  This balancing act is important in the interest of fairness. It’s not always easy to negotiate, but with a general understanding of the law and some handy tools, you can probably be confident in most of your determinations.  


This page will provide links to:

  • resources that will help you gain a basic understanding of copyright law,
  • tools that will help you make copyright determinations, and
  • people who, while not providing legal advice, can help you along the way.  


There are few hard and fast rules in copyright, but there is guidance available! 


Copyright Law in Plain English

Crash Course in Copyright, from the University of Texas

Although geared towards higher education, this is a great resource for other educational professionals, including school and public librarians.



The Copyright Primer, from the University of Maryland University College

This provides less practical information, but is a nice overview of the law.



Copyright and Fair Use from Stanford University Libraries

This website includes an overview of copyright, mostly taken from NOLO’s book Getting Permission, by Richard Stim.  Provided in the format of a FAQ, this covers some topics of special interest in the educational setting, like videotaping off the air for classroom use, and guidelines for photocopying for the classroom.  Keep in mind, though, that when guidelines are mentioned, they are just that.  Not actually law, you may be able to do more or less.




Copyright Tools

  • To determine if a work is still under copyright

Digital Copyright Slider, from Michael Brewer and the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy

The “digital” in the title refers to the format of the slider, but it covers works in all formats.  Just slide the red arrow to when the work in question was created or published, then read the status on the right.  If there’s an asterisk, be sure to click on it for more important information. 



Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States, by Peter Hirtle from the Cornell Copyright Information Center.

This chart provides more detail than the slider.  If you’re not sure from the slider, or if you prefer to see all the information laid out together, then try this helpful resource.



  • To determine if your intended use is fair

The Fair Use Checklist from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

This chart helps you work through the four factors of fair use: purpose, nature, amount, and effect.




  • Other ways libraries may be able to copy material

Digital Section 108 Spinner, from Michael Brewer and the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy

Like the slider above, the digital refers to the online version of the tool, but it covers works in many formats.  Copyright law allows libraries to do some things that most others can’t, but there are limitations.  To see whether or not your use is allowed by Section 108, drag what you want to do around to the arrow at the top.  Be sure to click for additional details.




Learn about the TEACH Act

TEACH Act, from the Copyright Advisory Network

This brief overview includes links to additional resources.




More help!

Are you still unsure of your understanding of copyright?  Do you want additional suggestions?  Are you wondering what others have done in similar situations?  Try out the Copyright Advisory Network’s Forum.  Here, you can pose your questions or situations, and Copyright Scholars and others will discuss them with you.  We’re not lawyers, but we’re librarians who deal with copyright both theoretically and practically in our daily work.



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