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MUShare & Scholarly Communication

Fair Use & Public Domain Basics

Fair Use of Copyrighted Material

Though copyright reflects the exclusive right of the owner of a particular work to reproduce, distribute, perform, display, or license it, there are limitations associated with such exclusivity. Such limitations have allowed for a "fair use" of the item, without the necessity of securing permission to use the copyrighted work.  Generally, uses revloving around the criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship and research of the item fall within the realm of "fair use". 

Specifically, the U.S. Copyright Act sets four factors or guidelines in determining whether or not "fair use" is reasonably used.  They are:

  1. The purpose and character of the specific use, particularly if the use is educational or commercial in nature.
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The proportion of the copyrighted content used in relation to its whole.
  4. The effect of the work's use of the work upon the potential market for or value of the work.

Because the above guidelines don't specifically or empirically address the instances when fair use would apply with full certainty, it is always advisable to contact the author of the work in question and ask permission for its use. 

Using Items in the Public Domain

The term "public domain" refers to content that does not possess any copyright restriction or conform to intellectual property laws.  Typically, works in the public domain are designated as such due to the age of the work. Works published in the United States before 1923 are typically free of copyright restriction. Works can also be designated as public domain content if specifically designated by the author.