Copyright Policies

Use of Copyrighted Works for Education and Research

I. Introduction

II. Policy of the Use of Copyrighted Works for Education and Research

III. Copyright Protections and Fair Use Principles

IV. Practical Assistance: Frequently Asked Questions about Copyright

V. How to Obtain Copyright Permission

VI. Agnes Scott College Copyright Contacts

VII. Copyright Resources on the Web

I. Introduction

The purpose of copyright, as articulated in the United States Constitution, is to "promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts." As Agnes Scott College (ASC) realizes its mission to educate its students, and to conduct research in the arts and sciences, or engage in the performing and creative arts, we have a responsibility towards the use of copyrighted works.

As creators of copyrighted works, we appreciate the incentive that copyright holds for the dissemination and preservation of our creative efforts in order to advance and expand general knowledge. As users of copyrighted works, we honor both the opportunities for and limitations to using the intellectual property of others. We also act as significant role models for our students for the responsible use of copyrighted work in teaching, learning, research, and scholarship. We are acutely aware of the importance of striking an appropriate balance, as United States law does, between the rights of intellectual property owners to govern the dissemination and use of their works, and our need to use information quickly and efficiently in our teaching, learning, and scholarship.

II. Policy on the Use of Copyrighted Works for Education and Research

Agnes Scott College will take appropriate measures to ensure that its students, faculty, and staff are aware of copyright laws, regulations, and agreements and can act responsibly as they use information that is owned by others in the course of teaching, learning, research, or administration of the College. All members of the Agnes Scott College community are required to comply with copyright laws. Federal copyright laws provide valuable protection to the authors of original works, and Agnes Scott College expects all members of the ASC community to respect those rights.

Copyright laws also permit users of copyrighted works to make fair use of copyrighted materials under some limited circumstances. Agnes Scott College is committed to full support of the fair use of copyrighted works by the Agnes Scott College community under the provisions of applicable laws. Members of the Agnes Scott College community are expected to have knowledge of, and make reasonable application of, the four factors of fair use

Failure to comply with copyright laws and to act in good faith in the fair use of copyrighted material will result in an Agnes Scott College community member assuming liability for his or her own actions and may result in disciplinary action.

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III. Copyright Protections and Fair Use Principles

To help members of the Agnes Scott College community understand and comply with copyright laws, this document summarizes basic principles of copyright law including the application of the fair use balancing test.

Copyright law is inherently complex. A fair use of a copyrighted work depends upon a specific determination based upon the circumstances of the use. New information technologies, e.g., digital information and networked environments, have introduced a wholly new, and in many ways transformed, working environment for the application of copyright. These principles are intended to provide an initial context for complying with the law.

Principle 1: The copyright holder has important and exclusive rights. Copyright law protects original works such as writings, music, visual arts, and films by giving the copyright holder a set of exclusive rights in that work. These rights include the right to copy, distribute, adapt, perform, display, and create derivative or collected works. In general, any use of copyrighted materials requires permissionHow to Obtain Copyright Permission) from, and potentially payment of royalties to, the copyright holder, unless the use falls within an exemption in the law, such as the fair use exemption.

Principle 2: Responsible decision making means that Agnes Scott College community members must make demonstrable good faith efforts to understand the fundamentals of copyright law and the reasonable application of fair use.  When Agnes Scott College community members plan to use a copyrighted work in their teaching or research, they must examine the specifics of their use within the context of the law in order to determine whether they should seek permission for the use or depend instead upon the fair use exemption.

Principle 3: An appropriate exercise of fair use depends on a case-by-case application and balancing of four factors as set forth in a statute enacted by Congress. A proper determination of fair use--in daily practice and in the courts--requires applying these four factors to the specific circumstances of the use:

Four Factors Used to Determine "Fair Use"

Purpose or character of the use

Nature of the copyrighted work being used

Amount and substantiality of the work being used

Effect of the use on the market for or value of the original

These factors must be evaluated to determine whether most of them weigh in favor of or against fair use.

Principle 4: Nonprofit educational purposes are generally favored in the application of the four factors of fair use, but an educational use does not by itself make the use a "fair use." One must always consider and weigh all four factors of fair use together. The educational purpose of Agnes Scott College will usually weight the first of the four factors, the purpose or character of the use, in favor of fair use. However, an educational use does not mean that the use is, by that factor alone, a fair use. All four factors must be weighed in making a decision.

Principle 5: Reasonable people--including judges and legislators--can and will differ in their understanding of fair use. Copyright law rarely offers a definitive meaning of fair use for any specific application. Thus, the real meaning of fair use depends on a reasoned and responsible application of the four factors. One person's judgment and situation may not match the next, and the differences may be based on variations in facts and circumstances.

Principle 6: By acting responsibly and by making considered and intentional decisions, you can limit your potential liability; document your reasoning for a fair use. Because of the flexible and interpretive nature of fair use, Congress provided significant protection for educators. Not only does the fair use exception apply particularly to educational purposes, but additional laws may limit the monetary liability that educators may potentially face. In any event, however, educators must hold a reasonable and good-faith belief that their activities are fair use in light of the four factors. By documenting your application of the four factors of fair use to your specific use, you will be better able to demonstrate your activities were done in good faith.

Principle 7:  Guidelines, while sometimes helpful, do not determine the entire breadth and scope of fair use protection. In an attempt to clarify the meaning of fair use for common situations, various private parties have negotiated guidelines, but those externally developed guidelines are sometimes inappropriate for the realistic application of fair use to higher education. Such guidelines may be consulted by courts in making fair use determinations, but the guidelines are not binding either as limiting permissible activity or as providing safe harbors. Fair use must be determined according to the circumstances of each situation.

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IV. Practical Assistance: Frequently Asked Questions

Practical assistance to explain concepts in these concepts is available in various ways:

  • The fair use checklist is a tool for conducting and documenting your fair use analysis
  • Common classroom scenarios are outlined here
  • Video tutorials are also available here.

Determining the Copyright Status of a Work

Q. How do I know if a work is under copyright or in the public domain?
A. First examine the work for a copyright statement. Then consult Is it Still in Copyright from Stanford University. 

Q. The Four Factors of Fair Use. Can you provide more detail about the four factors that determine fair use?
A. Fair use balances the rights of copyright holders with the needs of scholars to promote teaching, research and the free exchange of ideas. Fair use defines particular circumstances in which it is permissible to use copyrighted material, free from permissions and royalties. The four factors considered in weighing fair use are:

1. The purpose and character of the use. Use in nonprofit, educational teaching and research, or for criticism, commentary or news reporting, makes a finding of fair use more likely; commercial use makes a finding of fair use less likely. However, not all educational uses are fair uses.
2. The nature of the copyrighted work. Using works that are factual (e.g., historical data, scientific information, etc.) tends to weigh in favor of a finding of fair use; creative or unpublished works tend to indicate the need for copyright permission.
3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used. Use of small portions of a work usually favors a finding of fair use as long as the portion does not constitute "the heart of the work." The more material used the greater the balance away from fair use.
4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for the work. Use that substitutes for the purchase of a book, reprint, or subscription weighs against a finding of fair use.

Clearly these factors are subject to varying interpretations and applications. For further guidance, see a Fair Use Analysis Checklist

Q. Isn't any use in an educational setting considered fair use?
A. Unfortunately not. Purpose and character of the use (i.e., educational) is only one of four factors determining fair use. Educational use does favor fair use but other factors may weigh against fair use (e.g., nature of the work, amount copied, effect on the market).

Uploading Course Materials on Moodle or Canvas
Q. May I put electronic copies of course readings on my Moodle or Canvas site without copyright permission?

A. Yes, in accordance with these guidelines:

  • Use materials in the public domain freely.
  • Use material freely if you own the copyright (e.g., exams, syllabi, notes).
  • Use the McCain Library Journal Locator to find full text articles to link to from your syllabi. Whenever possible, link to documents available through McCain Library subscriptions rather than downloading them onto your Moodle site. Put the stable or persistent URL link on your Moodle syllabus, for example:


  • Keep items used under fair use up for only one semester AND restrict your website to enrolled class members only.  Remember: more stringent guidelines may apply to images, graphics, video, sound, etc.            

Q. Could you give me examples of fair use of printed materials?
A. Some common scenarios are given here.

Q. May I link to other websites from my home page or from Moodle?
A. Generally, this is permitted. Include an acknowledgement to the author or creator.

Q. What about other kinds of materials for classroom use (e.g., video, audio, images)?
A. Consult these examples related to video recordings and multimedia.
     For fair use images, try:

  • Wikimedia Commons:  All images and other media files on this site are freely reusable without permission.
  • Flickr: Advanced search options allow searches for Creative Commons-licensed images.
  • Copyright: This Flickr search engine includes a filter to only show Creative Commons-licensed images.
  • Wordle: Create word clouds easily.

Obtaining Copyright Permission
Q. How do I get copyright permission when needed?

A. See Section V. below.

Copyrighting Your Own Materials
Q. How do I copyright my own materials?

A. Copyright protection is automatic for materials "fixed in a tangible medium" (i.e., written, recorded, etc.). If you wish to register your copyright, go to the U.S. Copyright Office website.  This is not required but may help if you wish to file a complaint about copyright violation.

Special Situations

Out of print works
Q. Is it okay to photocopy a book that is out of print?

A. No, many out of print books are still protected by copyright. Check with McCain Library about buying a copy through the out of print/used book market or borrowing a copy through interlibrary loan.

Video, Film and Software
Q. May I show a film labeled "Home Use Only" to my class?

A. Yes, this is considered permissible in face-to-face teaching for instruction (but not entertainment).

Q. May I show a video labeled "Home Use Only" in a campus auditorium?
A. Yes, as long as the performance is not open to the public [or to students not enrolled in the course] and is for instructional purposes. Note, the Kanopy database offers films with public performance rights that may be streamed in classrooms and to groups on campus.

Q. May I show videos owned by McCain Library for a film series?
A. Only if the library purchased public performance rights for each DVD you intend to use. Ask a librarian if you need assistance. Note, the Kanopy database offers films with public performance rights that may be streamed in classrooms and to groups on campus. 

Q. May I copy a rental video or a preview copy to use later?
A. No.

Performance (music, dance, drama)
Q. Because Agnes Scott College is a non-profit educational institution, aren’t performances of music, dance, and drama allowable under fair use?
A. This is a complex area of the law. In general, performances in the classroom are permitted; any kind of public performance requires permission and/or payment of royalties. Consult with the Music or Theatre and Dance departments for more information.

Q. Do fair use provisions also apply to software?

A. No, software is almost always licensed and the license stipulates use. Fair use does not apply.

Q. I often make a back-up copy of software. Is this okay?
A. Generally, yes, as long as you retain the copy as a true back-up and only use it when the original fails.

Q. Is it alright to load single-user license software on several computers?
A. No, you need to buy multiple copies or be licensed for multiple users.

Q. May I borrow software to download on my home/office computer?
A. No, unless the software license specifically permits this.

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V. How to Obtain Copyright Permission

Class handouts, photocopies for library reserves, online posting (e.g. Canvas)

Each faculty member is responsible for obtaining or arranging to obtain copyright permissions for classroom handouts, photocopies for library reserve use, or online posting of materials (e.g., on Canvas). Since the process can be slow, especially when dealing directly with a publisher, we recommend that you submit requests for permissions at least six weeks before the material is needed. If permission is denied, or cannot be obtained in time, alternate material must be found.

For assistance identifying or locating publishers, search Google or The Serials Directory, The Copyright Clearance Center, or ask for search assistance from the McCain Library reference desk, x6096 or Faculty Services, x6030.

If you wish to use a course pack, please contact one of the vendors suggested here.

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VI. Agnes Scott College Copyright Contacts

For Questions About:                                Contact:                                        
Copyright Law or Fair Use 

Casey Long, x6343, McCain Library

Chris Bishop, x6337, McCain Library

Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) Neta Counts, x6483, Information Technology Services
Online Teaching Casey Long, x6343, McCain Library
Course Reserves Christopher Bishop, x6337, McCain Library
Questions about use of other materials:
Images Casey Long, x6343, McCain Library
Audiovisuals, Multimedia, Software Emily Gwynn, x6313, Educational Technology Services

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VII. Copyright Resources on the Web

Fair Use Checklist  (Columbia University)

Fair Use Checklist  (University System of Georgia)

Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States  (Cornell University)

Limitations on Exclusive Rights: Fair Use (Cornell Law School, Legal Information Institute)

U.S. Copyright Law: A Guide for Music Educators  (National Association for Music Education)

Copyright Crash Course (University of Texas)

Copyright & Fair Use: Charts and Tools (Stanford University)

Agnes Scott College, McCain Library is grateful to Smith College Libraries for the framework and some of the language used above.  Policy endorsed August 11, 2014 by Information Technology Services and McCain Library, revised July 23, 2019.