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Copyright and Fair Use: Home

Answers to common copyright questions asked by librarians and faculty


This site is intended for informational purposes only. Library staff members cannot give legal advice. For legal advice, our users must contact an intellectual property attorney. Legal counsel for Calvin is Randy Vogelzang, Director of Gift Planning and Major Gifts. (

Spirit and Purpose of the Law

"The constitutional purpose of copyright is to facilitate the flow of ideas in the interest of learning"...The primary purpose of our copyright laws is not to reward the author, but rather to secure for the public the benefits from the creations of authors." Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988.

"From the infancy of copyright protection, some opportunity for fair use of copyrighted materials has been thought necessary to fulfill copyright's very purpose, 'to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts...'" Supreme Court Justice David Souter.


  • Copyright: a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States for "original works of authorship." Copyright literally means the right to copy, but has come to mean that body of exclusive rights granted by law to copyright owners for protection of their work.
  • Fair Use: a legal doctrine that promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances. Section 107 of the Copyright Act provides the legal framework for determining whether something is a fair use.
  • Public Domain: refers to creative materials that are not protected by intellectual property laws such as copyright, trademark, or patent laws. The public owns these works, not an individual author or artist. Anyone can use a public domain work without obtaining permission.
  • TEACH Act: (Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization Act) was signed into law in 2002. It clarifies what uses are permissible with regard to distance education and explains the requirements that a university must abide by in order to be in compliance.
  • Digital Millennium Copyright Act: is a 1998 copyright law that implements two earlier treaties of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). It criminalizes production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to bypass digital rights management or DRM. It also criminalizes the act of bypassing an access control, whether or not there is actual infringement of copyright itself. 
  • Controlled Digital Lending: is the digital equivalent of traditional library lending. A library can digitize a book it owns and lend out a secured digital version to one user at a time, in place of the physical item. Learn more about it in this short video.
  • Creative Commons: is a license that is applied to a work that is protected by copyright. It's not separate from copyright, but instead is a way of easily sharing a copyrighted work. Learn more about it in this short video. Creative Commons licenses explained (Christine Fruin, ATLA).
  • Orphan work: a copyright-protected work for which rightsholders cannot be determined or contacted. Sometimes the names of the originators or rightsholders are known, yet it is impossible to contact them because additional details cannot be found.
  • Copyfraud: erroneously claiming rights to a work of authorship.