Skip to Main Content

Copyright for Students

Copyright and Fair Use

Fair Use

Copyright law restricts copying, modifying and sharing of protected works. Fair use allows for certain exemptions.

What's Fair Use?

In order to encourage progress in science and the arts, the concept of fair use was built into copyright law. Fair use encourages development of ideas by allowing others to use or build off of previous works. It balances out the exclusive rights of copyright holders.

So when we use someone else's work, how do we know if that use is fair use?

There is no easy yes or no for determining if a use is fair. Fair use balances four factors:

  1. Is the item being used for commercial or nonprofit educational purposes?
  2. What is the nature of the copyrighted work? Is it fact or fiction?
  3. What percentage of the work is being used?
  4. Will using item negatively affect the potential market value of the copyrighted item?

All four questions need to be asked and the answers balanced against each other. Frequently it will be clear in what direction your use is leaning. If you're not sure, ask one of your NUNM librarians for a second opinion.

Fair Use in Your Life

This infographic shows the ways a college student constantly depends on fair use in her daily life.

Copyright Dilemmas

: I want to use a Reserve book for longer than overnight. It’s easy to scan or photocopy a big chunk of the book, and that would totally solve my problem.

: You can make a copy of a few key pages for your personal use, but copying large portions of a copyrighted book is definitely not ok. If you’re relying on a Reserve book for a course, be sure to plan ahead… you probably aren’t the only one!


: My professor left an article on Reserve in the library that the whole class is supposed to read. A classmate asked me to scan it and send it to her, and to make life easier for everyone else, I sent it to the whole class.

: Go ahead and make a copy of the article for yourself, but not your classmates. Even though this is for an educational purpose, sometimes the institution doesn’t have permission to distribute the work electronically.  So if the article wasn’t posted to Moodle by your professor, there may be copyright-related reasons for that.


: I just found the entire full text of a book online that’s required for one of my courses.  Happy day!!  Now I don’t have to buy it!

: In the joy of this moment, it may not occur to you that this is probably a bootlegged copy – but sadly, it likely is. There are definitely free and legal full-text books online (check out Internet Archive or HathiTrust Digital Library or search for open access textbooks), but these will rarely be the recently-published books listed on your course syllabus. However, the library has print copies of almost every required textbook for you to borrow.


: I’m putting together a PowerPoint presentation for class, and it’s taking forever. I need a picture of jumbo shrimp and I found the perfect one. Google Images, you saved me!

: Not all images on the internet are ok to re-use, but a lot are. You can change Google’s search settings to find images that are ok to re-use, or do a Creative Commons search to find one. Check out this guide from Harvard’s law library for more places to find images you can use with a clear conscience.


: I just discovered these great herbal conference CDs in the library. My sister in Iowa would love these – can I upload the files to my computer and email them to her?

: Like many situations, technology allows us to do things like this, but that doesn’t make it legal under copyright law. But there’s an alternative: your sister can go to her local library and borrow the conference discs using interlibrary loan. It’s usually free at public libraries, and it’s totally legal under copyright law.  Win win.


NUNM Copyright Policy

For more information on how NUNM deals with issues of plagiarism and copyright, please review pages 87-89 of the attached student handbook.

What is protected under copyright law?

What is protected by copyright?

Ideas are not protected under copyright. But the tangible form those ideas take is protected by copyright. Once you write something down, record a song, or paint a picture, your work is AUTOMATICALLY protected under copyright. You don't have to do anything, or even attach the copyright symbol, because protection is automatic.

Duration of copyright

Copyright protection does not last forever. After a period of time, copyright expires and works enter the public domain so that others can use them freely. Under current law, copyright extends for the life of the author plus 70 years. So you can anticipate the copyright on Prince's song Purple Rain expiring on April 22, 2086.

Your Friendly Librarians

Profile Photo
NUNM Librarians