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Copyright and Fair Use

An overview of copyright, focusing on re-using other people's works in academic contexts

Film Screenings & Copyright

clipart of a container of popcornWhether you need permission to screen a film depends on the circumstances. Teachers showing films in face-to-face classrooms don't need permission per Section 110(1) of the Copyright Act, so long as the copy of the movie being shown is a lawful copy. This exception doesn't apply to extracurricular campus events or student groups who are hosting screenings that are open to the public. Distributors of films often sell Public Performance Rights that permit public screenings. The library may have purchased Public Performance Rights along with a copy of the film. Contact a librarian to check on the rights for a specific film. If we don't own the rights, we can help you contact the rights holders and ask for permission.

Kanopy is a streaming video service with a collection of over 26,000 films. Showing Kanopy films in a group gathering or online class is permitted as long as viewers are faculty, staff, students, or visiting scholars.

Copyright @ OSU FAQ

Q: How much of someone else's work can I copy, perform, or display?

A: 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. While specific numbers may appear in some best practice documents, there is no legal limit on how much of someone else's work you can use.  You will determine the amount as part of your four factor fair use analysis, which you can learn more about in the Fair Use tab.  There are also special exceptions for teachers, which you can learn more about in the Copyright in the Classroom tab.

Q: I just want some cool pictures to illustrate my PowerPoint. What are some easy ways to find resources for which I don't have to rely on fair use or ask for permission?

A: There are two main sources of content for which you don't have to worry about copyright clearance: public domain works, and works whose licenses allow your use.  Learn more about them in the Free-to-Use Resources tab.

Q: I want to mention a brand name (like Coca Cola) in my book/article/presentation.  Is this allowed? Do I need to include a special symbol like ©  or ®?

A: This is allowed, and you don't need to include a special symbol.  In the United States, you have a right to free speech--if you couldn't publish certain words, including companies or brands, that right would be severely restricted!  Current copyright law no longer requires a certain symbol (like ©) to identify something that's copyrighted.  Trademark law also relates to intellectual property, but it is different than copyright.  If a brand is trademarked, you can't sell products under that name in a way that might cause confusion, but you can mention the brand as much as you like for commentary, criticism, or parody - no special symbol needed.

Why Should You Care About Copyright?

decorative photo of a typewriter framing a piece of paper with the word "copyright"

  • It's supposed to balance the rights of creators and users. The U.S. Constitution granted Congress the right "to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." In other words, the founders wanted to encourage creativity by rewarding creators with an opportunity to protect and monetize their creations....for a specific period of time.  They also recognized that creators draw on a shared culture, so eventually all works become part of the public domain, which belongs to all of us.
  • It's the law. Congress passed the most recent Copyright Act in 1976.  You can find the whole text in Title 17 of the US Code. The Act contains exceptions that allow you--especially educators and researchers--to use other people's copyrighted work in certain contexts.  It's important to ensure that any unauthorized borrowing of others' copyrighted works follows best practices and is defensible under U.S. copyright law.  If you are alleged to have infringed someone's copyrights then you may be able to assert a fair use right to void the infringement allegations. 
  • It affects your daily life. Students and teachers, especially, must rely on other people's works in order to teach, complete projects, and do research.  Copyright and fair use impact you even when you don't think about it.

How Does Copyright Apply to You?

Copyright is part of intellectual property law.  It gives creators exclusive rights (for a limited time) to print, copy, publish, perform, film, or record original works that they have fixed in a tangible form.  Putting something in a tangible form might include publishing it on a blog or writing it in an email.  Copyright specifically protects literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.

  • If you are looking for materials you can freely re-use and copy, check out the Free-to-Use Resources section for information about finding images, books, articles, and more that are either in the public domain or are specifically licensed to permit re-use.
  • If you want to re-use someone else's work, you may be able to do this without seeking permission after conducting a fair use analysis
  • If you're a teacher there are specific exceptions to copyright that you can learn about under the Copyright in the Classroom tab. 
  • If you're a creator and want to learn more about using other people's work in your publications, and how to protect your own rights, check out the Author & Creator Rights section.
  • If you need to use another's work but don't think it would qualify as fair use, see Getting Permission.


The purpose of this guide is to provide faculty, staff, and students at Oregon State University with information about copyright law and fair use. This guide is for educational purposes only.  It is intended to help you make an informed decision, and should not be construed as legal advice.

Your Librarian

Michael Boock's picture
Michael Boock
Contact me for help with questions pertaining to copyright, the OSU Faculty Open Access policy, open access publishing, digital collections of scholarship. I am the library liaison for the College of Forestry and the Honors College.


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