Copyright and Fair Use


The Internet makes it very easy to acquire and copy all sorts of creative works, and share them with students for course-related purposes. But you should always carefully consider, before you share (even in a password-protected environment), whether you have the right to copy and share anything — text, images, audio, video, etc. —  that might be protected by U.S. Copyright law.

What is Copyright?
The U.S. Copyright law gives the creators of “original works of authorship” the right to reproduce and distribute, perform, or display their creations publicly; or grant someone else permission to do so. What does that mean to you as an instructor? If you’re planning to incorporate someone else’s work into your course, you need to know the status of the copyright.

What is Fair Use?
Fair Use is not a law governing whether or how you can use copyrighted material. Rather, it is a set of factors by which you can justify your use of copyrighted materials without obtaining permission from the copyright holder. In brief, the factors are:

  1. Purpose and character of the use (teaching, scholarship, research, non-profit, personal use)
  2. Nature of the copyrighted work (factual, published)
  3. Amount and substantiality of portion used (small amount relative to the entire work)
  4. Effect on the potential market for the work (original is out of print or unavailable; license is not readily available at a reasonable price in the format needed; copyright owner cannot be found or is nonresponsive)

For a complete analysis, go to the CUNY Fair Use Analysis, from which the above is excerpted.

If you have questions, don’t hesitate to ask: the CUNY Copyright Committee is one group to contact ( You can also contact Simone Yearwood, Access Services Librarian in the Rosenthal Library at Queens College (

Additional resources:
Open Educational Resources and Zero-Cost Learning: Fair Use and COVID-19
CUNY Copyright Materials
Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries from the Association of Research Libraries (ARL)
Copyright Law of the United States of America
The Direction Of Fair Use For Education: New Law And New Possibilities
Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video

Yes, you can scan that textbook* (webinar recording) the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries (ASERL)
The Past, Present, and Future of Ownership On the Media podcast