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1) Fair Use

Fair use, a limitation and exception to the exclusive right granted by copyright law to the author of a creative work, is a doctrine in United States copyright law that allows limited use of copyrighted material without requiring permission from the rights holders. (Wikipedia)

Sections 107-122 of U. S. copyright law spell out limitations to copyright holders’ rights.  Of particular importance to educators are: 


Stated Limitations


Permits the “fair use” of an owner’s work without permission for the purpose of “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research.”  See the Fair Use tab for the four factors that must be considered in fair use evaluations.


Permits a library or archive to reproduce works for archiving purposes, to make copies for patrons, and to participate in interlibrary loan, all without permission.


Permits individuals to lend, give, or sell copies of works lawfully owned without the permission of the copyright holder.  This is known as the First Sale Doctrine.


Permits displays of work and educational performances in face-to-face teaching and in distance education.


Permits reproduction of works for the visually impaired or with other disabilities without permission of the copyright holder.

2) Public Domain

Public domain refers to the total absence of copyright protection for a creative work (such as a book, painting, photograph, movie, poem, article, piece of music, product design, or computer program). (LINFO)

Copyright law also exempts works that are in the public domain due to:
•  Expiration of copyright term
•  Copyright was never secured
•  Work was published by the U. S. Government

3) Licensing

The verb license means to give permission. The noun licence refers to that permission as well as to the document recording that permission. Licence may be granted by a party ("licensor") to another party ("licensee") as an element of an agreement between the parties.

A licence may be issued to allow an activity that would otherwise be forbidden. It may require paying a fee and/or proving a capability. The requirement may also serve to keep the authorities informed on a type of activity, and to give them the opportunity to set conditions and limitations. A licensor may grant licence under intellectual property laws to authorize a use (such as copying software or using a (patented) invention) to a licensee, sparing the licensee from a claim of infringement brought by the licensor. (Wikipedia)

Members of a higher education community may use licensed works (e.g. databases, e-journals, e-books, etc.) according to the terms of the license. Consult with library staff for specifics.