Skip to Main Content

Library Home: Copyright

Welcome to the Pennsylvania Institute of Technology's Library online guide.

Can I Use That?

Can I reuse this image? Does Fair Use allow me to photocopy an article and share it with my online class? 

Questions about copyright and fair use can be hard. Contact your librarian for assistance. 

Copyright Infographic

Copyright Information

Fair Use Resources

Library Director

Profile Photo
Patrick Lyons
800 Manchester Ave, Media PA 19063

What is Copyright?

In the United States, copyright is the protection granted to the author/creator of a fixed form of creative expression that he/she shall have the exclusive right to reproduce, perform, and display that work as well as exclusive rights to make derivative works from the original. Copyright law is delineated in Title 17 of the US Code. 

The following are links which provide basic background on copyright. 

Copyright Basics FAQ

I.  Why Copyright?

According to the US Constitution, the purpose of copyright is to "promote the progress of science and useful arts." The full quote is:

"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."

II.  How long does copyright protection last?

  • For works created after January 1, 1978:  Life of the author plus 70 years.
  • For an anonymous work, a pseudonymous work, or a work made for hire, the copyright endures for a term of 95 years from the year of its first publication or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first.
  • Works published between 1925 and 1977, see this copyright duration chart.
  • Works published before 1925 are in the Public Domain.   

III. What can be copyrighted?

According to the Copyright Circular, the following types of material can be copyrighted:

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

IV. What cannot be copyrighted?

  1. Works that are not fixed in a tangible form of expression
  2. Ideas
  3. Works containing no original authorship such as a directory of commonly known information, news, etc.  
  4. Slogans (although they may qualify for trademark protection)
  5. Works in the public domain

V. Does copyright have to be registered?

No, currently, works become copyrighted automatically once they are fixed in a tangible form. 

Copy Right and Fair Use Video

Faculty, Fair Use, and Copyright


Faculty members wishing to place materials on the learning management system (LMS) must follow copyright law.

The following items may be placed on the LMS:

  • Content and links using tools provided within the LMS (such as the YouTube or TedED apps, etc.)
  • Links to material in licensed databases available through the library website. (This is preferred over simply downloading the PDF itself and making it available in the LMS. In many cases, database licenses do NOT permit making copies of a PDF available other than for personal use.  Most databases provide a “permanent link” as part of an article record that can be copied/pasted into the LMS.  Consult a librarian for assistance.)
  • Material that falls within the fair use guidelines
  • Material that is in the public domain
  • The faculty member’s own material where s/he owns the copyright.


You must follow the TEACH Act guidelines when placing video, film, and music clips on a learning management system.  The TEACH Act is meant for distance education or online and hybrid courses. The TEACH Act allows for the use of  “reasonable and limited” portions of films and videos as well as entire non-dramatic literary and musical works and still images, provided that:

  • The transmission of the digital works is part of an instructional activity at the direction or under the supervision of the faculty member and directly related and of material assistance to the lesson content;
  • The transmission is technologically limited to only those students that are enrolled in the class and the University has in place safeguards preventing students from making digital copies or retaining copies beyond the duration of the coursework (streaming video is recommended); and
  • Notice is provided that materials may be protected by copyright.

Additional information about the TEACH Act is available in the Fair Use tab of this guide.


  • Can I show all or part of a copyrighted movie in my class?
    • Yes, you are allowed to show a movie in a face-to-face class as long as the use is educational and the copy used was lawfully made.  There are no limits to the portion of the movie you may show. If the movie is part of a virtual course you may make a "reasonable portion" of the movie available using streaming technology.


  • Can I display copyrighted images in class?  Can they be used in PowerPoint Slides?
    • Yes, copyrighted images, charts, cartoons, etc., may be displayed in class.  Reproductions of material will need to be considered using the factors for determining fair use.  In most cases, displays of copyrighted material in the classroom will always constitute an educational or transformative use and will be considered fair.


  • Can I show the student works?
    • Yes, you may show student works, but you should remove the name unless you have permission


  • Can I hand out journal articles or book chapters?
    • The distribution (as opposed to the display) of copyrighted material must be carefully considered under the Doctrine of Fair Use.  Whenever possible, provide a link to the content rather than a hard copy.  If linking is not possible, use the four-factor analysis and the resources on this page to determine if the use is fair.

Copyright Fair Use


The Fair Use Doctrine exemption is meant to allow the use of copyrighted works explicitly for educational purposes such as criticism, comment, scholarship, research, and teaching.

Faculty members may find the Fair Use Evaluator tool, developed by the Office of Information Technology Policy of the American Library Association, helpful when deciding whether or not a proposed use of copyrighted material is fair use. 

While this is not an official instrument, it is our recommendation that you retain a copy of the PDF that is generated by the Fair Use Evaluator tool.  This will help demonstrate that you made a good faith effort to determine that an item used in class was covered by fair use in the event you or the University are contacted by the copyright owner(s).

Section 107 of the copyright law has four factors that must be considered when determining whether an educational use is fair use of a copyrighted work. The four factors are:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes. Most uses in the University environment will be educational, which weighs in favor of fair use.
  2. The nature of the copyrighted works. The use of works that are factual in nature (scholarly, technical, scientific, etc.) as opposed to works involving more creative expression (plays, poems, paintings, etc.) is more likely to be fair use. Some works that are designed and marketed for educational use (standardized tests, workbooks, etc.) can never be lawfully used without permission of the copyright holder.
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole. The larger the amount of work that one uses, the less likely that the use will be considered fair use. Copying the entirety of a copyrighted work generally precludes the application of the fair use doctrine.
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work. If the use would negatively impact the market for or value of the work, this factor will weigh against fair use.

Fair Use applies to both face-to-face and virtual teaching situations.  Virtual classroom settings are addressed by the TEACH (Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization) Act.  The TEACH Act extends copyright exemptions to participants in online and distance learning courses, and gives greater latitude when storing, copying, digitizing, and accessing materials.  Because of the greater access allowed by the TEACH Act, certain requirements must be met for the use to be considered fair:

  • The institution must be an accredited, non-profit educational institution
  • The use must be part of mediated instructional activities
  • Only those students enrolled in the class may have access to the materials
  • Portions of work used or displayed online must be comparable to those used in a typical face-to-face classroom setting
  • The institution must have a publicized copyright statement informing students that course content may be protected by copyright
  • There must be some technological measure that ensures compliance with the copyright policy and prevents students from disseminating copyrighted materials to others not enrolled in the course


Below are commonly-accepted guidelines for lawfully acquired copyrighted works that can be used according to Fair Use as published by the Conference on Fair Use.


Amount Suggested to meet Fair Use


Up to 10% or 3 minutes, whichever is less


Up to 10% or 1000 words, whichever is less; 
1 chapter out of 10 chapter book

Music/Lyrics/Music Video

Up to 10%, but no more than 30 seconds


No more than 5 images from a single artist;
10% of a published collective work, but no more than 15 works

Data Sets (databases)

Up to 10% or 2500 fields, whichever is less