All About Copyright

Click on the topics below for more detailed information on copyrights.



What is a copyright?

Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.

Federal copyright law provides the owner of the copyright with the exclusive right to copy, distribute, perform, and make derivative works.

Ideas cannot be copyrighted. Only the actual expression of your idea in a fixed form is protected by copyright law. If someone uses your exact idea for a research project on the Battle of Normandy, and she interviews the same subjects and takes pictures of the same landscape, but does not use your words or your pictures, you may or may not have legal redress, but not under copyright law. On the other hand, if the other researcher uses some of your words or pictures but in a different format, you may have a copyright infringement claim for derivative work.

Copyright protection, unlike the patent process, is automatic upon creation of a copyrightable work. In other words, if you could have registered your copyright with the United States Copyright Office, but chose not to do so, you still own the work. On the other hand, unlike the patent process, copyright registration is inexpensive and simple. See U.S. Copyright Office homepage.

  • Copyright registration becomes necessary if you wish to file a legal action against someone who is infringing your copyright. 

Copyright, like patent, is limited by time, but the term is much longer, lasting beyond your lifetime.

A copyright owner may license its rights to others. UCLA TDG manages licensing of UCLA copyrights that are owned by The Regents.

What rights do I get when I have a copyright?

Copyright is a bundle of rights that allow the copyright owner to control the use of the work.

  1. the right to reproduce or copy the copyrighted work;
  2. the right to prepare derivative works based upon the work;
  3. the right to distribute copies of the work to the public;
  4. the right to perform the copyrighted work publicly; and
  5. the right to display the copyrighted work publicly. 

What does copyright protect?

Copyright protects original works of authorship that are fixed in a tangible form of expression. This means that the work must exist in some physical form for at least some period of time, no matter how brief. Virtually any form of expression will qualify as a tangible medium, including a computer's random access memory (RAM), the recording media that records a live broadcast, and the detailed notes on the back of an envelope that contain the basis for an impromptu speech. The fixation need not be directly perceptible so long as it may be perceived and communicated with the aid of a machine or device, for example, a software program.

Copyright protects original works of authorship including: literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as novels, songs, poetry, movies, CD-ROMs, video games, video recordings, plays, paintings, sheet music, recorded music performances, software code, sculptures, photographs, choreography and architectural designs, computer software, and architecture.

What are copyrightable works?

Copyrightable works include the following categories:

  1. literary works
  2. musical works, including any accompanying words
  3. dramatic works, including any accompanying music
  4. pantomimes and choreographic works
  5. pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  6. motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  7. sound recordings
  8. architectural works

These categories should be viewed broadly. For example, computer programs and most “compilations” are considered to be “literary works”; and maps and architectural plans are considered “pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works.”

In addition, the work must be original -- that is, independently created by the author. It doesn't matter if an author's creation is similar to existing works, or even if it is arguably lacking in quality, ingenuity or aesthetic merit. So long as the author creates an original work without copying from someone else, the results are protected by copyright.

Finally, to receive copyright protection, a work must be the result of at least some creative effort on the part of its author, but there are no standards as to how much creativity is enough. For example, a work must be more creative than a telephone book's white pages, which involve a straightforward alphabetical listing of telephone numbers rather than a creative selection of listings.

Note that copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed. Copyright also does not protect names, short phrases, titles, or commonly used words.

Does copyright protect an author's creative ideas?

No. Copyright protects only fixed, original and creative expression, not the ideas or facts upon which the expression is based. For example, copyright may protect a particular song, novel or computer game about a romance in space, but it cannot protect the underlying idea of having a romance among the stars. Others are free to copy the idea. Allowing authors to monopolize their ideas would thwart the underlying purpose of copyright law, which is to encourage people to create new work.

For similar reasons, copyright does not protect facts -- whether scientific, historical, biographical or news of the day. Any facts that an author discovers in the course of research are in the public domain, free to all. For instance, anyone is free to use information and facts included in a book about how the brain functions, or an article about the life and times of a historical figure.

Facts are not protected even if the author spends considerable time and effort discovering things that were previously unknown. For example, an author may spend ten years gathering all the necessary materials and information for the book. After the book is published, anyone is free to use the results of the research project to write another original book without paying the original author.

How long does a copyright last?

This is a complicated question. The term of copyright for a particular work depends on several factors, including whether it has been published, and, if so, the date of first publication.

As a general rule, for works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. For an anonymous work, a pseudonymous work, or a work made for hire, the copyright endures for a term of 95 years from the year of its first publication or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first.

For works first published prior to 1978, the term will vary depending on several factors. 

All works published in the United States before 1923 are in the public domain.

Works published after 1922, but before 1978 are protected for 95 years from the date of publication.

If the work was created, but not published, before 1978, the copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years.

However, even if the author died over 70 years ago, the copyright in an unpublished work lasted until December 31, 2002. And if such a work was published before December 31, 2002, the copyright will last until December 31, 2047.

Use the following table as a helpful guide on this topic:

Do I have to renew my copyright?

No. Works created on or after January 1, 1978, are not subject to renewal registration.

Can I copyright my website?

The original authorship appearing on a website may be protected by copyright. This includes writings, artwork, photographs, and other forms of authorship protected by copyright.

Can I copyright my domain name?

Copyright law does not protect domain names, but your domain name may be protected by a trademark. Contact the UCLA TDG at 310-794-0558 for further information.

How do I copyright a name, title, slogan or logo?

Copyright does not protect names, titles, slogans, or short phrases, but copyright protection may be available for logo artwork that contains original authorship. In some cases, these things may be protected as trademarks. Contact the UCLA TDG at 310-794-0558 for further information.

How is a copyright different from a patent or a trademark?

Copyright protects original works of authorship, while a patent protects inventions or discoveries. Ideas and discoveries are not protected by the copyright law, although the way in which they are expressed may be. A trademark protects words, phrases, symbols, or designs identifying the source of the goods or services of one party and distinguishing them from those of others.

What is a derivative work?

A derivative work is based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted. A work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship, is a derivative work.

How much do I have to change in my own work to make a new claim of copyright?

You may make a new claim in your work if the changes are substantial and creative, something more than just editorial changes or minor changes. This would qualify as a new derivative work. For instance, simply making spelling corrections throughout a work does not warrant a new registration, but adding an additional chapter would.

How do I protect my idea?

Copyright does not protect ideas, concepts, systems, or methods of doing something. You may express your ideas in writing or drawings and claim copyright in the expression of your ideas, but be aware that copyright will not protect the idea itself as revealed in your written or artistic work. Ideas, concepts, systems, and methods are potentially patentable.

Does my work have to be published to be protected?

Publication is not necessary for copyright protection.

Does copyright protect architecture?

Yes. Architectural works became subject to copyright protection on December 1, 1990. The copyright law defines “architectural work” as “the design of a building embodied in any tangible medium of expression, including a building, architectural plans, or drawings.” Copyright protection extends to any architectural work created on or after December 1, 1990. Also, any architectural works that were un-constructed and embodied in unpublished plans or drawings on that date and were constructed by December 31, 2002, are eligible for protection. Architectural designs embodied in buildings constructed prior to December 1, 1990, are not eligible for copyright protection.

If something is freely available on the internet isn’t the work free of copyright protection? Isn’t it in the public domain?

No. Works on the internet are almost all covered by copyright and potentially other types of protection. You should not assume that because a work is on the internet or the work is not marked as being copyrighted by anyone that it is in the public domain.

What is the public domain?

The public domain is not a place. A work of authorship is in the “public domain” if it is no longer under copyright protection or if it failed to meet the requirements for copyright protection. A work that is in the public domain is a creative work that is not protected by copyright and which may be freely used by everyone. The reasons that the work is not protected can include: (1) the term of copyright for the work has expired; (2) the author failed to satisfy statutory formalities to perfect the copyright; or (3) the work is a work of the U.S. Government. Works in the public domain may be used freely without the permission of the former copyright owner.

Since the Federal government cannot hold a copyright on a work, if my work is funded by a Federal grant doesn’t that mean it is in the public domain?

Receiving Federal funds does not put a work into the public domain.  Only works that are created by the Federal government are in the public domain.  Funding a work is not equivalent to a government agency producing the work.

How do I put my work into the public domain?

There are very specific actions that must be taken to declare a work in the public domain and all rights to the work will be forever surrendered. UCLA TDG does not recommend this. Please contact us at 310-794-0558 for more information.

How do I disclose my software copyright?

You will need to complete the UCLA Patent and Copyright Invention Report Form.

More information can be found online at the UC Patent Policy website.

How does UCLA treat software?

Software is unique since it can be both potentially patented and covered by copyright.

For the purpose of copyright protection, a computer program is defined as a set of statements or instructions to be used directly or indirectly in a computer in order to bring about a certain result. Although the copyright protection for the software is automatic as soon as it is fixed in a tangible medium, it covers only the tangible expression of source and object code.

To protect the algorithms, ideas, layout, or methods, you will need a patent. Not all software is patentable; however, the UCLA TDGcan assist you with the analysis of whether or not a software invention is patentable. Because of the joint coverage under patent and copyright, software is considered first under the UC Patent Policy and should always be disclosed under an invention report. Our staff will evaluate both the patentability and the marketability of the software product.

Software licensing is an intricate process, and the rights conferred by agreement vary depending on the product itself as well as on the intended use by the licensee. If your software product is licensed to a commercial partner, you will be distributed royalty income in accordance with the UC Copyright Policy.

What about licensing my software under an Open Source License?

If you wish to license the software product using an open source license and without charging a fee, contact The UCLA TDG for appropriate license terms. You may wish to also read our FAQs on open source licensing (coming soon!) for more information on types of open source licenses.

When is my work protected?

Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.

Do I have to register with the copyright office to be protected?

No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work.

Do I have to mark my work to be sure it is protected?

No. In general, you do not have to mark your work with a copyright notice to be protected by Copyright protection, but it is a good idea to put the world on notice that the work is protected. Even if you don’t register your work or mark it with a copyright notice, you still have a copyright for the work.

Why should I register my work if copyright protection is automatic?

Registration is recommended for a number of reasons. Many choose to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney's fees in successful litigation.

How do I register my copyright?

To register a work, you will need to submit a completed copyright application form, a nonrefundable filing fee of $45, and a non-returnable copy or copies of the work to be registered. The Office of Intellectual Property can assist you with this process.

Where can I get application forms?

Copyright registration Forms may be downloaded from the U.S. government’s copyright office website. You may also get forms from the Copyright Office in person, by mailing in a request, or by calling our 24-hour-a-day forms hotline: (202) 707-9100. UCLA TDG can assist you with filing the form and submitting the required material.

Can I file online?

Not at the moment. Online registration is expected to be available for use by the public sometime in the future.

What is the registration fee?

The current filing fee is $45 per application. Generally, each work requires a separate application, unless it is a series, such as a series of photographs that can be filed together.

Do I have to send in my work? Do I get it back?

Yes, you must send the required copy or copies of the work to be registered. No, the copies will not be returned. Upon their deposit in the Copyright Office, under sections 407 and 408 of the copyright law, all copies and identifying material, including those deposited in connection with claims that have been refused registration, become the property of the U.S. government.

Will my deposit be damaged by security measures in place on Capitol Hill?

To avoid damage to your deposit caused by necessary security measures, package the following items in boxes rather than envelopes for mailing to the Copyright Office:

  • electronic media such as audiocassettes, videocassettes, CDs, and
  • DVDs
  • microform
  • photographs
  • slick advertisements, color photocopies, and other print items that  are rubber-and vegetable-based

How long does the registration process take?

The time the Copyright Office requires to process an application varies, depending on the amount of material the Office is receiving. If your submission is in order, you may generally expect to receive a certificate of registration within approximately 4 months of submission.

Please note that the copyright office mail service is severely disrupted due to off-site screening of all submissions to the copyright office.

Can I submit my manuscript on a computer disk?

No. Floppy disks and other removal media such as Zip disks, except for CD-ROMs are not acceptable. Therefore, the Copyright Office still generally requires a printed copy or audio recording of the work for deposit.

Can I submit a CD-ROM of my work?

Yes. The deposit requirement consists of the best edition of the CD-ROM package of any work, including the accompanying operating software, instruction manual, and a printed version, if included in the package.

Does my work have to be published to be protected?

Publication is not necessary for copyright protection.

Which form should I use?

Generally, to register literary works and computer programs, use Form TX; for performing arts, use Form PA; for single issue serials/periodicals, use Form SE; for a group of issues of serials/periodicals, use Form SE/Group; for a group of daily newspapers or newsletters, use Form G/DN; for sound recordings, use Form SR; for visual arts, use Form VA.

I want to copyright my center’s name. Which form do I use?

Names, titles, short phrases, and slogans are not copyrightable. You may have protection under the federal trademark laws. Contact the UCLA TDG at 310-794-0558 for more information.

Which form do I use to register a computer software application I am creating?

You should file your claim on application Form TX. Please contact the UCLA TDG at 310-794-0558 for assistance.

Using Copyrighted Works

How do I know if a work is copyrighted?

You should always assume that a work is copyrighted unless it was created before 1923.

How do I get permission to use somebody else's work?

You must ask for permission to use any work that you do not own. If you know who the copyright owner is, you may contact the owner directly. If you are not certain about the ownership or have other related questions, please contact UCLA TDG at 310-794-0558.

How can I find out who owns a copyright?

The copyright office and other agencies can provide information available in their records. A search of registrations, renewals, and recorded transfers of ownership made before 1978 requires a manual search of the copyright office’s files.

How much of someone else's work can I use without getting permission?

Under the fair use doctrine of the U.S. copyright statute, it is permissible to use limited portions of a work including quotes, for purposes such as commentary, criticism, news reporting, and scholarly reports. There are no legal rules permitting the use of a specific number of words, a certain number of musical notes, or percentage of a work. Whether a particular use qualifies as fair use depends on all the circumstances. See the Fair Use section of this document, or contact UCLA TDG or the Library if you have questions regarding the definition of Fair Use.

How much do I have to change in order to claim copyright in someone else's work?

Only the owner of copyright in a work has the right to prepare, or to authorize someone else to create, a new version of that work. Accordingly, you cannot claim copyright to another's work, no matter how much you change it, unless you have the owner's consent. However, you may be able to claim ownership to a derivative work. Contact UCLA TDG at 310-794-0558 if you have questions.

Somebody infringed my copyright. What can I do?

If you believe that your copyright has been infringed, contact UCLA TDG at 310-794-0558.

Could I be sued for using somebody else's work? How about quotes or samples?

If you use a copyrighted work without authorization, the owner may be entitled to bring an infringement action against you. There are circumstances under the fair use doctrine where a quote or a sample may be used without permission. Contact UCLA TDG or the Library for assistance.

What are the possible penalties for copyright infringement?

Under the Copyright Act, penalties for copyright infringement can include:

  1. stopping the infringer by issuing an injunction against further infringement - such as an order preventing the infringer from future copying or distribution of the copyrighted works
  2. impounding or destruction of infringing copies
  3. damages - either actual damages and the infringer's profits, or statutory damages
  4. costs and attorney's fees

A copyright owner can only sue for infringement on a work whose copyright was registered with the Copyright Office, and can get statutory damages and attorney's fees only if the copyright registration was filed before infringement or within three months of first publication (17 U.S.C. 411 and 412).

Authorship and Ownership

Who is an author and who is an owner?

Under the copyright law, the creator of the original expression in a work is its author. The author of a copyright is not the same thing as the owner of the copyright, although in many instances the author is also the owner.  See below.

Who is the owner?

Ownership of copyrightable works created at UCLA is determined in accordance with the UC 1992 Policy on Copyright Ownership. See the Who Owns What Chart and the UC Copyright Policy:

In general, copyrights are owned by the people who create the works of expression, with some important exceptions:

  • If a work is created by an employee of UCLA in the course of his or her employment, UCLA owns the copyright.
  • In most cases, the general rule is that faculty own those copyrightable works that they create as scholarly or aesthetic works. There are some exceptions, generally determined by project funding.  
  • In most cases, course work and syllabi that you create are your own, unless "exceptional university resources" or sponsored or departmental funds are used in the creation.
  • If you create the work in the course of sponsored research, or using special departmental funds, or are otherwise relying upon "exceptional university resources," UCLA likely owns the copyright and you should disclose it to UCLA TDG for further evaluation and discussion.
  • Works that are “made for hire” are generally the property of the organization that hired the contractor. Therefore, if you pay an outside vendor to create or assist in creation of a potentially copyrightable work, such as software, photographs, or video/film footage, you should be sure to have an advance, written agreement which specifies that the vendor is doing a "work for hire" and also agrees to assign all rights to the Regents. Feel free to contact UCLA TDG at 310-794-0558 for suggested language.

Who has the right to use a copyrighted piece?

Usually the original author or developer owns the copyright and has all rights to use it. The Copyright owner may also be a person or entity to which an exclusive right has been transferred in writing. One of the primary values of owning copyright rights is the ability to transfer some or all of those rights to third parties. Transfers of ownership can be made for all of the copyright rights in a work or can be for a limited portion of the rights, such as in a particular region or a specific format. These transfers usually take the form of copyright licenses or an assignment. The UCLA TDG can assist you with these transfers of ownership.

When do faculty, students, and the University own the copyright to a work?

For more information, please see

Faculty retain ownership of a work if it is a scholarly or aesthetic work (such as manuscripts, books, monographs, art, music, performance) which originated as a result of independent academic effort and without the use of university resources or facilities, and a personal work developed outside the scope of University employment.

A student retains the copyright if the work is produced by a registered student without the use of University funds.

The University retains the Copyright if a work is made based on a written agreement between the university and a non-university employee or a university employee outside the scope of their employment. It includes sponsored works, commissioned works, contracted works produced using University resources, and work for hire, which is work specially ordered or commissioned by the University. 

What is joint ownership of copyright?

Joint ownership of copyright is generally defined as work prepared by two or more authors with the intention that their contributions be merged into inseparable or interdependent parts of a unitary whole. There are two general requirements for a work to be considered a joint work, both of which are indicated in the Copyright Act. First, each contributor must provide copyrightable content to the work, and second, the contributors must have intended to create a joint work.

When a copyright is owned jointly, each owner may exercise any or all of the rights of copyright. An individual owner may use the entire work as he or she wishes and may also grant non-exclusive rights to others, as long as he or shee shares any profits with the joint owners. However, a single owner may not grant an exclusive right to anyone without the consent of all joint owners. 

Who owns the copyright in a joint work?

When two or more authors prepare a work with the intent to combine their contributions into inseparable or interdependent parts, the work is considered joint work and the authors are considered joint copyright owners. The most common example of a joint work is when a book or article has two or more authors. However, if a book is written primarily by one author, but another author contributes a specific chapter to the book and is given credit for that chapter, then this probably wouldn't be a joint work because the contributions aren't inseparable or interdependent.

Joint copyright owners have an equal right to register and enforce the copyright. Unless the joint owners make a written agreement to the contrary, each copyright owner has the right to commercially exploit the copyright, provided that the other copyright owners get an equal share of the proceeds.

Can two or more authors provide contributions to a single work without being considered joint authors for copyright purposes?

Yes. If at the time of creation, the authors did not intend their works to be part of an inseparable whole, the fact that their works are later put together does not create a joint work. Rather, the result is considered a collective work. In this case, each author owns a copyright in only the material he or she added to the finished product. For example, in the 1950's, Vladimir writes a famous novel full of complex literary allusions. In the 1980's, his publisher issues a student edition of the work with detailed annotations written by an English professor. The student edition is a collective work. Vladimir owns the copyright in the novel, but the professor owns the annotations.

Is release of University ownership of copyright to originator possible?

Yes. With agreement of all involved parties, UCLA TDG may release or transfer the University’s rights in a traditional or non-directed work created through exceptional use of University resources to the work’s creator through an appropriate written agreement. Prior, the University needs to verify that there are no special obligations to a sponsor or other third party and that the best interests of the University are served. The University will have a free-of-cost, nonexclusive, worldwide license to use and reproduce the work for education and research purposes. If commercialization of the work generates income, the University may ask the creator to reimburse the University for the exceptional resources provided to the creator, or the creator shall share income from such commercialization with the University. For reference please see

If the University retains ownership of copyright, will I receive royalties for my work?

Yes. The University will share royalties generated from licenses of University-owned copyrighted work and allocated among individuals identified by the author or creator of the work, based on their contributions to the work. Usually, royalty will be shared with the originator or University department or center. Determination is made on a case-by-case basis by the UCLA TDG and after consultation with the author or department head. For reference please see

Can a copyright owner transfer some or all of his specific rights?

Yes. When a copyright owner wishes to commercially exploit a work covered by the copyright, the owner can transfer one or more of these rights to the person or entity who will be responsible for getting the work to market, such as a book or software publisher. The copyright owner may transfer limited rights to the work. For example, the owner may limit the transfer to a specific period of time, allow the right to be exercised only in a specific part of the country or world, or require that the right be exercised only through certain media, such as hardcover books, audiotapes, magazines or computers.

If a copyright owner transfers all rights unconditionally, it is generally termed an "assignment." When only some of the rights associated with the copyright are transferred, it is known as a "license." An exclusive license exists when the transferred rights can be exercised only by the owner of the license (the licensee), and no one else -- including the person who granted the license (the licensor). If the license allows others (including the licensor) to exercise the same rights being transferred in the license, the license is said to be non-exclusive.

What is publication?

Publication has a technical meaning in copyright law. According to the statute, “Publication is the distribution of copies or phonorecords of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending. The offering to distribute copies or phonorecords to a group of persons for purposes of further distribution, public performance, or public display constitutes publication. A public performance or display of a work does not of itself constitute publication.” Generally, publication occurs on the date on which copies of the work are first made available to the public.

What is a copyright notice? How do I put a copyright notice on my work?

A copyright notice is an identifier placed on copies of the work to inform the world of copyright ownership that generally consists of the symbol or word “copyright (or copr.),” the name of the copyright owner, and the year of first publication, e.g., ©2007 John Author.

While use of a copyright notice was once required as a condition of copyright protection, it is now optional. UCLA recommends marking your works with a copyright notice in order to put other users on notice that the work is a copyrighted work owned by UCLA.

Use of the notice is the responsibility of the copyright owner and does not require advance permission from, or registration with, the Copyright Office.

A copyright notice should contain:

  • the word "copyright"
  • a "c" in a circle (©)
  • the date of publication, and
  • the name of either the author or the owner of all the copyright rights in the published work.

The standard form for a copyright notice on works belonging to the University is:

  • Copyright © 2009. The Regents of the University of California. All Rights Reserved.

OR, if acknowledgement to the author is desired,

  • Copyright © 2009. The Regents of the University of California. All Rights Reserved. Created by [insert name of author and other desired acknowledgement].

OR, if acknowledgement to a center or school within UCLA is desired,

  • Copyright © 2009. The Regents of the University of California and [insert name of school or center]. All Rights Reserved.

What is copyright infringement?

As a general matter, copyright infringement occurs when a copyrighted work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without the permission of the copyright owner.

What is a work made for hire?

Although the general rule is that the person who creates the work is its author, there is an exception to that principle; the exception is a work made for hire, which is a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment; or a work specially ordered or commissioned in certain specified circumstances. When a work qualifies as a work made for hire, the employer, or commissioning party, is considered to be the author.

There are exceptions to the work for hire rule, so please contact The UCLA TDG at 310-794-0558 for more information.

Fair Use

What is Fair Use?

One of the rights accorded to the owner of copyright is the right to reproduce or to authorize others to reproduce the work in copies. This right is subject to certain limitations found in sections 107 through 118 of the Copyright Act (title 17, U. S. Code). One of the more important limitations is the doctrine of “fair use.”

Section 107 contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered “fair,” such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. 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 distinction between “fair use” and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.

Examples of Fair Use

Some examples of activities that courts have regarded as fair use are:

  • quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment;
  • quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work, for illustration or clarification of the author's observations;
  • use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied;
  • summary of an address or article, with brief quotations, in a news report;
  • reproduction by a library of a portion of a work to replace part of a damaged copy;
  • reproduction by a teacher or student of a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson;
  • reproduction of a work in legislative or judicial proceedings or reports;
  • incidental and fortuitous reproduction, in a newsreel or broadcast, of a work located in the scene of an event being reported.

Additional guidance may be obtained from this table which lists factors that courts have looked at over the years:

Fair Use Factors



Favoring Fair Use

Opposing Fair Use

Teaching or educational purposes (including multiple copies for classroom use)

Commercial activity


Profiting from the use



Non-profit educational institution

Bad-faith behavior


Denying credit to the original author



News reporting


Transformative or Productive use (changing the work for a new utility)


Restricted access (i.e. to students or other group)






Favoring Fair Use

Opposing Fair Use

Published work


Non-published work

Factual or non-fiction based

Highly creative work (art, music, novels, plays, etc.)

Important to favored educational objective




Favoring Fair Use

Opposing Fair Use

Small quantity Large portion or whole work is used


Portion used is not central to or significant to entire work


Portion used is central to the work or is “the heart of the work.”


Amount is appropriate for favored educational purpose





Favoring Fair Use

Opposing Fair Use

User owns lawfully acquired or purchased copy of the original copyrighted item Could replace sale of copyrighted work


One or fewer copies made Significantly impairs market or potential market for copyrighted work or derivative reasonably available for licensing


No significant effect on the market or potential market for copyrighted work


Mechanism for use of the copyrighted work


No similar product marketed by the copyright holder Affordable permission for use of the copyrighted work


Lack of licensing mechanism

Numerous copies made

Was made accessible on the web or in another public forum

  Repeated or long-term use




Copyrighting Personal Scholarly Works

What rights do I retain if I sign a copyright assignment form with a publisher?

Managing your copyrighted work wisely can significantly enhance the values of the educational system. The fundamental business of education is to create and share knowledge. However, the effective sharing of knowledge is sometimes jeopardized. Especially with regard to journal articles, authors commonly give away their ownership rights in exchange for prestigious publication.

As a result, publishers are at liberty to control the use of the author's work, sometimes imposing significant costs and administrative burdens on using the work for non-commercial education purposes. Rarely does the author have any voice in deciding how the work will be used.

Authors should read and understand the agreements they sign with publishers. Copyright creators may transfer some or all of these rights to a publisher. The copyright creator may also retain ownership but grant licenses to other parties to exercise one or more of these rights.

Copyright licenses may be exclusive or non-exclusive; for a specified period of time or for the full term of the copyright; for one medium or many; or defined or restricted in various other ways. For reference, please see:

What are permissions and how do I give permission to use my materials?

The copyright law provides that the owner of a property has the exclusive right to print, distribute, and copy the work, and permission must be obtained by anyone else to reuse the work in these ways. You control how your work will be used. Since it is your personal work, you cannot use the name of the University to promote or identify your creation.

When you intend to license your personal work, it is important to remember that if you "assign" or grant "exclusive rights" to your copyrights to a publisher, that you may not be able to use your work without first obtaining permission from the publisher. If you wish to use your work for teaching or further research, you need to retain this right and expressly state this in the agreement. For reference, please see: