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Copyright and Fair Use

Elizabethtown College Copyright Policy & Guidelines


All members of the Elizabethtown College community are expected to abide by all copyright laws and regulations. It is the responsibility of all faculty, staff, and students to do a fair use analysis whenever they make use of copyrighted material and to secure the proper permissions or licenses to use that material when necessary.


The Elizabethtown College Copyright Policy & Guidelines have been most recently updated 12/2019.


The following guidelines provide a brief summary of United States copyright law and are intended for college faculty, staff, and students to reference when addressing copyright issues. Elizabethtown College is committed to upholding United States copyright law.

Copyright law is complex and contains many gray areas. These guidelines can help with navigating copyright-related matters; however, they are not a substitute for legal advice and proper legal advice should be obtained when necessary.


Definition of Copyright

Copyright is an area of law that provides the creators or authors of creative works with an incentive to share their works by giving them certain exclusive rights which allow them to profit from their work. These rights are granted in the Copyright Act of 1976 (Title 17, U.S. Code). Before using or reproducing a copyrighted work, permission must be obtained from the copyright holder, unless the use falls under the fair use provision.


Copyright Protections

The rights granted by the Copyright Act are intended to benefit the creators or authors of "original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression." Protected works include (but are not limited to) works that are literary, musical, dramatic, choreographic, audiovisual, sculptural, pictorial, graphic, and architectural. (Title 17, Section 102, U.S. Code)

Copyright protection is automatically conferred. Authors are not required to register or label their works as copyrighted to receive copyright protection. This means that virtually all creative works, be they printed, three-dimensional, or electronic, published or un-published, are almost certainly protected by copyright. Note that copyright law does not protect ideas, data, facts, or procedures, although other laws may apply, for example, patent laws for ideas.

Among the exclusive rights granted to authors are the rights to reproduce, distribute, publicly perform, and publicly display their works. Copyright also protects the right to make derivative works, such as making a movie from a book or a t-shirt from a photograph; the right to include a work in a collective work, such as publishing an article in a book or journal; the rights of attribution and integrity for authors of works of visual art; and the right to license others to do the same. These exclusive rights give copyright holders control over the use of their works and an ability to benefit, monetarily or otherwise, from the use of those works. (Title 17, Section 106, U.S. Code)


Copyright Duration

The duration of copyright protection depends largely on the date that a work was created or published, and whether the work was created by an individual or an organization. For works created in 1978 and after, the general rule of copyright duration is the author's life plus 70 years after the author's death, or for works created by companies or other types of organizations, the duration is 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, whichever is earlier.

For works created prior to 1978 and after 1925, copyright duration varies due to differing terms in the laws that were passed during that time. The copyright status of these works is contingent on the terms of the law in the year of their creation.

After the expiration of copyright, a work passes into the public domain and may be used freely without the author's consent. As of 2020, works published prior to 1925 are in the public domain.


Applying Fair Use

Fair use refers to a set of conditions under which one can use a copyrighted work without infringing on copyright. The provision for fair use is found within Section 107 of the Copyright Act.

Under the fair use provision, a reuse of someone else's copyrighted work should be considered fair if it is used for one of the following purposes: criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. But, aside from broadly naming these uses, fair use is an ambiguous concept and the law does not state in clear terms what specific uses of copyrighted works will definitely be considered fair use. The onus falls to individuals to make their own fair use analysis to determine if their use falls within fair use. Most fair use guidance comes from case law, but as no two uses are exactly the same, each use requires a very circumstance-specific analysis to determine whether that particular use or reuse of a work may indeed be considered fair use. (Title 17, Section 107, U.S. Code)

Note that some additional guidance for fair use in regards to distance education and materials in course management systems was provided by the TEACH Act of 2002, and can primarily be found in Sections 110(2) and 112(f) of Title 17.


Four Factors of Fair Use

A determination as to whether a use falls within fair use must be made based upon four factors:

  1. The purpose and character of the use (ie: for commercial or nonprofit educational use)
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work (ie: creative or data-based)
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

A fair use analysis involves evaluating each of the four factors and determining whether the use is weighted as more-fair or less-fair overall. (Title 17, Section 107, U.S. Code)

Uses that do not fall within fair use will require obtaining permission from the copyright holder.


Permission to use copyrighted materials, when required, should be obtained prior to using those materials. It is best to obtain permission in writing (including email). The time it takes to obtain permission may vary and it is recommended to start the permissions procedure as soon as possible. With published materials, it is usually possible to obtain permission through the publisher or a clearinghouse. Note that most publishers charge a fee for permissions. The Copyright Clearance Center ( is a good place to start to find permissions for written works.


The High Library can provide assistance with obtaining permissions and can give guidance with queries regarding copyright and fair use. Contact the Scholarly Communications Librarian with your questions.


More information on copyright can be found in the library’s guide at:

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