Skip to Main Content

Copyright & Fair Use

This is an academic guide on copyright and fair use.

Copyright Law Defined

Copyright law, as defined in Title 17 of the United States Code, protects "original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression" for a limited period. Copyright protection includes, for instance, the legal right to publish and sell literary, artistic, or musical work, and copyright protects authors, publishers and producers, and the public.  Copyright applies both to traditional media (books, records, etc.) and to digital media (electronic journals, web sites, etc.). Copyright protects the following eight categories of works:

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

Ownership of a copyrighted work includes the right to control the use of that work. Use of such work by others during the term of the copyright requires either permission from the author or reliance on the doctrine of fair use. Failure to do one or the other will expose the user to a claim of copyright infringement for which the law provides remedies including payment of money damages to the copyright owner.

Pertinent Lawsuits in Higher Education

American Geophysical Union v. Texaco Inc. - 60 F.3d 913 (2d Cir. 1994)
In 1995, Texaco paid out over a million dollars to six publishers because a company researcher systematically made copies of scientific articles from a single use subscription without obtaining persmission from the publisher.  The fact that the research was for commercial gain, and that the court found that Texaco would probably not have purchased multiple copies of the journals, and the copies took the place of purchasing multiple copies (thereby competing with the publishers ability to collect license fees) all ruled against fair use.

Basic Books, Inc. v. Kinko's Graphics Corporation - 758 F.Supp. 1522 (S.D.N.Y. 1991)
Probably the most well known copyright infringement case around, Kinkos in all paid about 2 million to several publishers for making and selling "coursepacks."  Kinkos made the copies, assembled the packs and sold them, without seeking permission for the copyrighted materials.

AIME et al. v. Regents of UCLA et al. 
The Association for Information Media (AIME), a NY-based trade group, and AVP, an educational video publisher and one of AIME's clients sued UCLA for streaming videos for student use.  The case has been thrown out.  Twice.  Notable in this case is that AIME and AVP are not the copyright holders.

Cambridge University Press et al. v. Patton et al. - 
This case involves several publishers suing several individuals at Georgia State for using copyrighted materials in e-reserves.  Much has been written about the case as it has far reaching implications.  An original ruling found mostly in favor of Georgia State, but appeals have been filed.

Need Help?