Using Copyrighted Works

The vast majority of scholarly works are protected by copyright, and it is important you respect the copyrights of others when using these works in your teaching and research. Copyright protections begin the moment something is fixed in tangible form. It is not necessary to register a copyright for the work to be protected.

Disclaimer: The content on this site is for information only and is not to be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice concerning copyright, please contact an attorney.

Using Copyrighted Materials in Your Classroom

In the face-to-face classroom:

A single copy may be made of any of the following by or for a teacher at their individual request for their scholarly research or use in teaching or preparation to teach a class:

  • A chapter from a book.
  • An article from a periodical or newspaper.
  • A short story, short essay or short poem, whether or not from a collective work.
  • A chart, graph, diagram, drawing, cartoon or picture from a book, periodical or newspaper.

Multiple copies (never to exceed one copy per pupil in the course) may be made by or for the teacher giving the course for classroom use or discussion, provided that:

  • The copying meets the tests of brevity and spontaneity as defined below.
  • Meets the cumulative effect test as defined below.
  • Each copy includes a notice of copyright.
  • Brevity:
    • Poetry: (a) A complete poem if less than 250 words and if printed on not more than two pages or (b) from a longer poem, an excerpt of not more than 250 words.
    • Prose: (a) Either a complete article, story, or essay of fewer than 2,500 words, or (b) an excerpt from any prose work of not more than 1,000 words or 10% of the work, whichever is less, but in any event a minimum of 500 words.
      (Each of the numerical limits stated in “i” and “ii” above may be expanded to permit the completion of an unfinished line of a poem or of an unfinished prose paragraph.)
    • Illustration: One chart, graph, diagram, drawing, cartoon or picture per book or per periodical issue.
    • “Special” works: Certain works in poetry, prose or in “poetic prose” which often combine language with illustrations and which are intended sometimes for children and at other times for a more general audience fall short of 2,500 words in their entirety. Paragraph “ii” above notwithstanding, such “special works” may not be reproduced in their entirety; however, an excerpt comprising not more than two of the published pages of such special work and containing not more than 10% of the words found in the text thereof may be reproduced.
  • Spontaneity:
    • The copying is at the instance and inspiration of the individual teacher.
    • The inspiration and decision to use the work and the moment of its use are so close in time it would be unlikely to receive a reply to a request for permission.
  • Cumulative Effect:
    • The copying of the material is for only one course in the school in which the copies are made.
    • Not more than one short poem, article, story, essay or two excerpts may be copied from the same author, nor more than three from the same collective work or periodical volume during one class term.
    • There shall not be more than nine instances of such multiple copying for one course during one class term.

Notwithstanding any of the above, the following are prohibited:

  • Copying shall not be used to create or to replace or substitute for anthologies, compilations, or collective works.
  • There shall be no copying of or from works intended to be “consumable” in the course of study or teaching. These include workbooks, exercises, standardized tests and test booklets and answer sheets, and like consumable material.
  • Copying shall not:
    • Substitute for the purchase of books, publishers’ reprints or periodicals.
    • Be directed by higher authority.
    • Be repeated with respect to the same item by the same teacher from term to term.
  • No charge shall be made to the student beyond the actual cost of the photocopying.

The guidelines above only define the limits of fair use. If you wish to use material beyond the limits mentioned above, you need to obtain permission from the copyright holder. If you need assistance obtaining permission, contact the Course Reserves office.

In an online class:

Please follow these guidelines when using copyrighted materials in the online classroom:

  • The materials displayed are intended for the use of the students in that particular class as part of a mediated instructional activity. Only students enrolled in the class may have access to the material.
  • Materials may not be accessible to students beyond the end of the class term.
  • Technology must be used that reasonably limits the students’ ability to further distribute the materials or retain them beyond the end of the semester.
  • No copies may be made by an instructor beyond the copy used to make the content available to the students.
  • Material which may be displayed:
    • Non-dramatic literary and musical works in their entirety.
    • Reasonable and limited portions of dramatic literary, musical, or audiovisual works.
    • Displays of other works, such as images, in amounts typically used in the face-to-face classroom.
  • Material that may not be displayed:
    • Materials specifically marketed for classroom use for digital distance education.
    • Illegally made or obtained copies of material.
    • Textbooks, coursepacks, electronic reserves or other materials typically used in the face-to-face classroom.
  • “Reasonable and limited" portions of audio-visual works may be shown in the online classroom. Be aware, however, that any license agreement that CMU has with a title's vendor takes precedence over this limitation; some of our licenses permit the showing of an entire work.
  • Analog (i.e. non-digital) material may be digitized a) only in an amount permitted under fair use limitations, b) with permission of the copyright holder, and c) only if there is no digital copy of the work available.
  • When an entire work is to be displayed to the class (such as a journal article or book chapter), this is best handled by placing the item on course reserve.

If you have any questions, please contact the Course Reserves and Copyright Services office.

Audiovisual Works

Lawfully made or purchased videos may be shown in class when the purpose of the performance or display is educational.

Only limited portions of VHS and DVD works may be digitized and streamed for the online classroom. If you have questions about this please contact our the Course Reserves and Copyright Services office.

A video may not be shown to a public audience (i.e. to an uncontrolled group outside of the classroom) without permission from the copyright holder.

Creating Multimedia

These guidelines cover the permissible amount of use, without permission, of copyrighted works when creating educational multimedia products. If you follow these guidelines, it is likely your use can be considered fair use.

  • Print material:
    • Up to 10% of the total or 1,000 words, whichever is less.
    • An entire poem of fewer than 250 words may be used, but no more than three poems by a single poet or a total of five poems by different authors from the same anthology. If a poem exceeds 250 words, you can use up to 250 words, but no more than three excerpts from a single poet or five excerpts from a poem within a single anthology.
  • Images, illustrations and photographs:
    • No more than three images from one source.
  • Motion media:
    • Up to 10% of the total item or three minutes, whichever is less.
  • Music, lyrics and music videos:
    • Up to 10% of the total work, but no more than 30 seconds of the music or lyrics from an individual musical work.
  • Numerical data sets:
    • Up to 10% or 2,500 fields or cell entries, whichever is less, of the total work.
  • Copying a multimedia project:
    • There may be no more than two copies made of a project.

Student Works

If you wish to reproduce and/or distribute a work created by a student(s), you must first obtain permission to do so from the student(s). Obscuring the name of the student author or otherwise making the work anonymous is NOT the same as obtaining permission. The student is the copyright holder and copying and/or displaying the work without permission is a violation of copyright.

Fair Use

Fair use is a set of broad criteria that allows individuals to use limited portions of a work in the name of criticism, teaching, scholarly research and news reporting without first having to obtain permission from the work’s copyright holder. Consideration of all four of the factors below is required before proceeding with use, though all factors do not have to be in favor of use to make it a fair use.

What is the purpose of the use?

If the purpose of the use is non-profit and/or educational in nature, the use is more likely to be protected under the doctrine of fair use than if the intention is to use the material in a for-profit manner. Be aware, educational use alone may not be sufficient to constitute fair use.

There is also allowance made for a transformative use of material. Fair use permits the transforming of an original work to give it new expression or meaning. One common example of this is using original content in a parody.

What is the nature of the copyrighted work?

The concept of fair use favors works considered factual in nature (i.e. created for the purpose of criticism, commentary, teaching, or scholarship) over works that are original fictional or artistic expressions. Also, since copyright law grants an author the right to first publication, greater accommodation is given when using published versus unpublished works.

What is the amount or substantiality of the item used?

While the law does not define a set amount or percentage of a work that can be used and still be considered fair use, the smaller the amount of a work you use, the more protected you are.

Regarding substantiality, even using a very limited portion of a work may not be allowed if that portion is what is referred to as the ‘heart of a work.’ In a fictional work, this might be a key or climactic plot scene; in a non-fictional work, it may be a few pages that summarize the argument of the entire text, for example.

What effect will the use have on the potential market for the work?

Copyright law grants an author the right to realize financial gain from the creation and sale of his work. If usage of the material negatively impacts the author’s ability to realize revenue, it will not be considered fair use. Copying material intended to be purchased (e.g. a study guide and workbook) is not protected under the idea of fair use.

Getting Permission

If fair use isn’t an option, you can always ask permission from the copyright holder. The library’s Course Reserves and Copyright Services office will help.

Public Domain Works

Public domain materials are not protected by copyright and can be used freely. Material in this category includes:

  • Works with expired copyright (items published before 1927 are in the public domain).
  • Works not copyrightable or protected by copyright.
  • Works produced by the United States federal government (with the exception of certain materials vital to national security).
  • Works donated to the public domain (through open publishing agreements, for example).

Public domain works can be used without having to obtain permission, though it is considered best practice to acknowledge the source.

Creative Commons Works

Creative Commons licenses allow creators and authors to retain the copyright to their works while granting others the ability to use, share and build upon that work. These licenses are a way people make their work freely and easily available to others for the good of the community.


Plagiarism is presenting the work or ideas of another in your research without properly acknowledging the source. If you use the work of someone else and either knowingly or inadvertently claim it as your own creation, you are committing an act of plagiarism.

An act of plagiarism can take many forms. Here are some examples of plagiarism:

  • Word-for-word copying of another’s work without properly acknowledging the source of the information. If you use the exact words of another, you must enclose this in quotation marks.
  • Paraphrasing the work of another without acknowledgment. Paraphrasing is putting another's statements and/or ideas in your own words, but if your sentences use many of the same words and grammatical structure as the original source, it could be construed as plagiarism. Be sure to summarize the text in your own words. Quotation marks are not required here, but you still must cite paraphrased content.
  • Failing to properly cite your source, even if that failure is inadvertent.
  • Attributing information to a source from which it did not come.
  • Submitting material created by another under your name. This includes turning in a paper created by someone else and claiming it as your own work.
  • Submitting material created by yourself and others but claiming the work entirely as your own.

Here are some tips for avoiding plagiarism:

  • Familiarize yourself with the basics of the research writing process, including the citing of sources.
  • Make note of all the sources you consult during the research process.
  • Always enclose direct quotes in quotation marks. Failing to do this is one of the most obvious forms of plagiarism.
  • Remember that paraphrasing the ideas of another still requires proper citation.
  • Give yourself enough time to properly research and write your paper. Waiting until the last minute may tempt you to plagiarize.
  • Proofread the final version of your paper to ensure that all the sources you used are cited correctly.

If unsure whether to cite a source or how to cite it properly, ask your instructor or a librarian.

Course Reserves

The library’s course reserves service is a good way to make copyrighted materials (such as articles and book chapters) available to your classes. An instructor can place physical items on reserve in the library or have electronic materials placed on reserve through the course Blackboard shell.

Here are guidelines for using electronic course reserves:

  • Access to the material is limited to the students enrolled in the class.
  • Access to the material must be disabled when the class ends.
  • An item may be placed on electronic reserve one time under fair use guidelines without having to obtain permission, but each subsequent use requires permission.
  • Students may make a copy of an electronic reserve item for the purpose of individual study.
  • Material owned by the CMU Libraries –including items from our print and electronic collections—can be placed on course reserve without having to obtain permission or pay usage charges.
  • Instructors are encouraged to draw on these collections when assembling reserve materials.
  • Linking to an item (such as a journal article) is preferable to creating a copy of the item. Since linking does not involve appropriating content copyright doesn’t actually come into play. You can link to anything you want without having to ask permission.

For help please contact the library's Course Reserves and Copyright Services office. The staff will locate a full-text copy of the item(s) for you, obtain the necessary usage permissions and pay any usage charges, and load the material directly into your Blackboard course shell.

Registering Your Copyright

Copyright protection begins the moment an original work is fixed in tangible form. It is, therefore, not necessary to register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office.

There are, however, some reasons you may want to register your copyright:

  • Registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim.
  • Registration is necessary before an infringement suit can be filed in court.

Should you decide to do so, registration may be made at any time within the duration of the copyright. The decision to register a work belongs entirely to the copyright holder.