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Copyright Essentials

An introduction to copyright issues for the NMSU community. This guide does NOT supply legal advice nor is it intended to replace the advice of legal counsel.

What is fair use?

It is one of several limitations on the rights of copyright holders provided within the law to make protected materials available for use by others, ensuring our ability and democratic right to freely exchange and transform ideas.  If your use is fair, permission from the copyright holder is not required. Title 17 of USC §107 (the U.S. Copyright Law) states:

"...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.

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors."

When can you apply fair use?

Fair Use is analyzed on a case-by-case basis. Fair use is extremely important to educators, but not all fair use cases are educational in nature and not all educational uses will be fair.To determine if your intended use of a work is fair, you must balance the use based on the four factors above. If your responses weigh in favor of fair use, then you may use the material without obtaining permission from the copyright holder. If your responses weigh against fair use, then you are best advised to obtain permission for the use. See the Seeking Permission tab for more information.

NOTE: Well-established guidelines indicate that repeated use of the same materials may tip the balance against fair use. If this is the case, you should seek copyright clearance for each subsequent use of the materials.

For more information on each of the four factors and handy checklists that may be used to make and maintain records of fair use decisions, see the column on the right.


Copyright: A Fair(y) Use Tale (fun video!)

Below is a brief copyright law primer compiled with Disney clips. Disney has been a major proponent of extending terms of copyright protection on its works. So this tongue-in-cheek video pokes fun at Disney's prolific legal actions re: copyright while using the clips to provide instruction on fair use. Video is just over 10 minutes in length.

Fair use checklists: Use these!

How do you determine if your use qualifies as fair use?

We recommend using these handy checklists to guide your decision-making. It is also advised to maintain them for your records.

Why do this?

Section 504 (Copyright Infringement and Remedies) of the U.S. Copyright Law reduces liability for educators and librarians who make a reasonable and good faith effort to determine whether a particular use is fair. Your use of a checklist demonstrates this type of good faith effort.