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Copyright at the MSU Library

General guidelines for copyright

Montana State University

Information in this guide is for general information only. 

Copyright Overview

The Copyright Act of 1976 went into effect in 1978.  Along with subsequent amendments, it is the current copyright law in the United States.

One of the amendments, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, or DMCA, addresses copyright as it pertains to the internet.  It went into effect in 2000.

The Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization Act of 2002, or TEACH, deals with copyrighted information that an instructor in an accredited, nonprofit educational institution, could use as part of his/her instruction in a distance education setting.

Fair Use is the limited use of copyrighted material without obtaining permission from the copyright owner. How much material is covered by fair use does not have set amounts, but is judged on a case-by-case basis.  There are four factors that are considered when judging if the use of material is indeed "fair use".  They are:

  • the purpose and character of your use
  • the nature of the copyrighted work
  • the amount and substantiality of the portion taken, and
  • the effect of the use upon the potential market.

In 2012, the Association of Research Libraries released the document Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries which provides guidance to libraries and library patrons in the appropriate use of information resources for educational purposes.  This document is extremely helpful and one of several "Best Practices in Fair Use" documents developed by specific professions.  You can view other such examples like documentary film, online video, media literacy,poetry, OpenCourseWare, and Images for Teaching, Research, and Study. A companion guide to this is called Fair Use and Video: Community Practices in the Fair Use of Video in Libraries.

Please use this link to a Fair Use Checklist.  It is based on a document created by Professor Kenneth Crews and the staff of the Copyright Management Center at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Based on the above listed four factors of fair use—purpose, nature, amount and effect—the checklist was created to help educators, librarians and others evaluate content uses to determine if fair use applies.