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Copyright and Fair Use

About Copyright and Fair Use

What is Copyright?

 Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.  (U.S. Copyright Office) . Copyright laws allow people to own the exclusives rights to audio, visual, printed material, or computer software that they create. This means others must have their permission to copy an entire work, distribute copies of their work, perform their work publicly, or display their work publicly.

What Is Fair Use?

In its most general sense, a fair use is any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and “transformative” purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work. Such uses can be done without permission from the copyright owner. In other words, fair use is a defense against a claim of copyright infringement. If your use qualifies as a fair use, then it would not be considered an illegal infringement.

Copyrighted materials can be used in college projects as long as Fair Use Guidelines are followed.

Fair Use Guidelines for Students

These Guidelines tell us how much of the copyrighted material we can use without violating copyright laws. The Guidelines cover text, data, illustrations, photographs, movies, plays, TV shows, videos, music, lyrics and downloading from the Internet.

Students and teachers creating educational materials must follow the guidelines and remember to cite the authors of any work they copy.  

Text and Data

  • You can use up to 10%, but no more than 1000 words, of essays, articles, or stories, of a single copyrighted work.
  • You can use up to 250 words of an entire poem, or a portion of a poem.
  • You may not use more than 3 poems or portions of poems by one poet, or by different poets in the same book.
  • You may use up to 10%, but no more than 2500 fields or cells, from a database or data table.

Illustrations and Photographs

  • You may use a single photograph or illustration.
  • You may not use more than 5 images by a single artist or photographer.
  • You may use up to 10%, but no more than 15 images, from a single publication.
  • You may use a single chart, graph, diagram, cartoon, or picture from a book or magazine.

Movies, Plays, TV Shows, Videos, Music and Lyrics

  • You cannot change or alter the work.
  • You may use up to 10%, but no more than 3 minutes, of a single movie, TV show or video.
  • You may use up to 10%, but no more than 30 seconds, of music and lyrics from a single musical work.
  • You must purchase performance rights to hold a live performance of a copyrighted work.

Downloading from the Internet

  • You cannot copy information from one Internet website onto another website.
  • You can create a link to another website.
  • You can use information from the Internet in multimedia presentations


Adapted from Independent School District of Boise City