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Copyright & Fair Use

What Rights are Protected under Copyright Law?

Section 106 of Copyright Act (title 17, U.S. Code.) asserts that authors have the exclusive right to:

  • Reproduce 
  • Distribute 
  • Display
  • Perform
  • Creative derivative work

However, there are exceptions to these rights laid out in subsequent sections of the law, particularly in section 107, the "Fair Use" Doctrine, of the Copyright Act.

What is Fair Use?

The right to reproduce a work or authorize others to reproduce a work belongs to the copyright owner. (Note: the author may have transferred those rights to someone else.)  However, the rights of the copyright owner are subject to certain limitations, as outlined in sections 107-118 of the Copyright Act (title 17, U.S. Code.)

One of the most important limitations is the doctrine of "fair use," defined in Section 107. Section 107 lists various purposes for which reproduction of a work may be considered "fair," such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. It also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:

  1. Purpose: the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. Nature: the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. Amount: the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. Effect: the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

More detailed information on these 4 factors can be found at

Fair Use Guidelines

Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission to use a source, nor does it subsitute for verifying that your use is legal under the "fair use" doctrine. 

However, in practice, the distinction between "fair use" and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined.

Fair use typically allows the limited copying and distribution of an article, image, or other information for personal, research, or educational use. However, there is no specific number of copies that may be distributed and no specific number of words, lines, images, or notes that may be reproduced without permission.

In many cases, what is allowed to be done with an information source will differ depending on the individual copyright permissions listed on that source, or in the case of library research databases, the license that the library has with that publisher.  Generally, as more copies of a work are made and distributed, or larger sections of a work reused, the argument for fair use becomes weaker.

Scott Memorial Library has not adopted official guidelines for determining fair use. Librarians can help you understand the concept of fair use and discuss the facts of your proposed use.  However, we cannot make a fair use determination for you. Please e-mail if you need assistance.

There are also online tools designed to help you reflect about fair use, such as the ones listed below. If you use one of these checklists to come to a decision about fair use, be sure to keep a copy in your records.

If you need additional assistance coming to a decision, contact the Office of University Counsel.   

Works in the Public Domain

If a work is in the public domain, then it is free for you to copy and use without permission. Works often enter the public domain because copyright has run out, although some authors do choose to place their work in the public domain before this happens.

  • : This chart provides an overview of how long it takes works created at various times to enter into the public domain.
  • : The presence of a Creative Commons License on a work is an easy way to tell if that work was made available without out copyright by the author. Attaching a CC license to your work is also easy way to make your work available for others to use.

You should assume that every work is protected by copyright unless you can establish that it is not protected.

  • Do not rely on the presence or absence of a copyright notice (©) to determine whether a work is protected by copyright. 
  • Remember that works found on the Internet, even if publicly available for free, are not in the public domain and are subject to copyright protection.
  • Similarly, any work that is presented in a fixed form, whether print or online, whether published or private, is copyrighted.
  • When in doubt, always assume that a work is protected by law.

Public Domain Images/Music

To find images available in the public domain for use in projects, you can use the resources linked below to start, or, you can go the Jefferson Image LibGuide and verify usage permissions in each resource.

  • Wikimedia: check item record for permissions.
  • Creative Commons: check the CC license for limitations on use.
  • Google Images: use the tools menu to limit your search by the "usage rights" of the image.

You can also use the "How to Give Attribution" page on the Creative Commons website as a guide for how to cite these images. 

To find music available in the public domain for use in classroom projects, you can use the resources linked below

  • YouTube Audio Library: designed for creators looking to add copyright free music to their work.
  • Musopen: this source archives open access recordings of classical music
  • PD Info: Searchable list of public domain music

Tests and Measurements

  • Tests and measurements fall under copyright protection, just as other works do.
  • This means that unless you can find evidence that permission has been given for anyone to use a particular instrument, you will need to request permission from the developer(s) of a test or instrument to use it if you are planning to publish the results.
  • Even if you can find the full text of an instrument, that still does not mean that anyone is free to use that instrument.
  • If the instrument is not accessible online or via published content, contacting the developer(s) may be the only way to obtain the full text of the instrument.
  • If you need help finding information about a test or measurement, visit the Scott Library Health and Psychosocial Instruments (HaPI) database, or scan through the reference lists from articles that use the instrument. CINAHL can also be useful to find such articles with its “instrumentation” field.

Additional Reading


The information presented in this guide is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.  Matters of law are subject to interpretation, and University Counsel is the source of authoritative information for Thomas Jefferson University. If you have specific legal questions pertaining to Thomas Jefferson University, please contact the Office of University Counsel.