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Copyright and Fair Use

Tech Tips WWW Everyone 
Or: They don't call it Web publishing for nothing!
In the good old days, if you wanted to use a picture from a book to illustrate a point in your class lecture, you'd make a transparency and throw it on the overhead projector. If you thought about copyright issues at all, you probably thought they didn't apply to you.

But today, both you and most everyone else is publishing their lecture notes, class projects, and research papers on the Web. It's easy and tempting to scan a picture from a book or cut-and-paste an image and use them on your Web page. It's also possibly wrong. Welcome to the world of publishing, copyright, and fair use!

Is it Copyrighted?
  Most likely. Copyright law covers:
  • literary, musical, dramatic works
  • pantomimes and choreographic works
  • pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  • motion pictures, sound recordings, and other audiovisual works
  • architectural works

As soon as an item is stored on something permanent (computer disks included), it's copyrighted. It does not have to be registered, nor does it have to specifically say it's copyrighted. If you found it on the Web and it's "worthy of copyright," it's copyrighted. A small red ball wouldn't be worthy of copyright, so you could safely use one that you found on the Web as a bullet, but you couldn't use a picture of Winnie the Pooh you found on the Disney Web site.

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Copyright Law and Fair Use Guidelines
  The 1976 US Copyright Law says: "copyright owners have the exclusive right to reproduce, prepare derivative works, distribute, perform, display, transfer ownership, rent or lend their creations." But the law goes on to specify a "fair use" exemption that limits these rights to promote free speech and scholarly research.

The law is vague, however, on the details of the fair use exemptions. In an effort to clarify the concept of fair use, the Consortium of College and University Media Centers (CCUMC) initiated and coordinated the creation of the "Educational Multimedia Fair Use Guidelines," which were released in July, 1996.

The Fair Use Guidelines summarize what may be done with copyrighted work without asking for permission. (Not that asking for permission is that much trouble, really. In many cases copyright holders will give you permission to use their work for scholarly or educational purposes. Any of the campus offices listed in the article can help you with this.)

The entire text of the Guidelines is at

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Can I Use It Anyway?
  Maybe. The US Copyright Law provides an exemption for the use of copyrighted work in free speech, learning, and scholarly research. The Fair Use Guidelines summarize what may be done with copyrighted work without asking for permission.

Guidelines for students who use copyrighted work in a class project:

  • May use in course for which project created
  • May use in their own portfolios, with no time limits

Guidelines for educators who use copyrighted work in educational or scholarly works:

  • May use for up to two years without permission; formal permission is required after two years
  • May use portions to support their teaching, both face-to-face and in assignments
  • May retain copies for use at conferences and in portfolios, with no limitations on time


up to two years without permission
Motion Media: 10% or three minutes, whichever is less
Text: 10% or 1000 words, whichever is less (except poems)
Music: up to 10%, but no more than 30 seconds
Illustrations and photographs: less than five images per artist
Data Sets: 2500 fields or cells or 10%, whichever is less
Special cases:
poems, email, online chats, LISTSERV discussions, Web cameras; see the guidelines for further information
no more than two copies, which may be placed on reserve

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They "Aren't Lawyers"
  They aren't lawyers, but if you have questions on copyright issues, these UIC groups can help: Intellectual Property Office, 312B AOB, (312)996-4995, Web:

Instructional Media Planners, 2514 UH, (312)355-0511 and (312)355-0512, email:, Web:

InfoTech Arcade and the University Library, East Arcade: (312)996-0301, West Arcade: (312)996-7484, email:, Web:

Illustration (c) SoftKey International Inc. and its licensors.
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