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Fair Use Guidelines

Guidelines on the limitations of fair use and when you must seek permission:

Also consult the American Library Association’s “Is it Protected by Copyright?” digital slide tool for timeframes in which permission is needed.

Table of Multimedia Fair Use Guidelines

Medium Limits
Video Up to 10% or 3 minutes (whichever is less)
Audio Up to 10% or 30 seconds (whichever is less)
Text Up to 10% or 1000 words (whichever is less)
Poetry Up to 250 words (or entire poem if work is less than 250 words)
Images Up to 5 complete images from one artist or 15 from a single collected work

—Adapted from the Consortium of College and University Media Center’s Fair Use Guidelines for Educational Multimedia.


Fair Use Examples

In the Classroom

  • Question: Can I photocopy and distribute text from textbooks, journals, newspapers, etc. to my students?
  • Answer: You can scan up to 1,000 words or 10% (whichever is less) of the text source. If you need to use more content than that, contact the copyright holder and ask permission. Be sure to keep the four fair use factors in mind, and always properly cite your sources.
  • Question: Can I display a political newspaper cartoon in class on the overhead projector?
  • Answer: Yes, if the newspaper cartoon was part of that day’s newspaper and fits the four fair use factors (in particular, spontaneity), you could display that day’s political cartoon in class on the overhead projector.
  • Question: Can I post artwork in a PowerPoint presentation?
  • Answer: You can post up to 5 photographs and illustrations by the same artist or 15 from a single, collected work, as long as the four fair use factors are met. Be sure to properly cite your sources.
  • Question: I have a song that I need my students to listen to. Can I pass out CDs with this audio clip?
  • Answer: No, not unless you have permission from the copyright owner or the music clip is in the public domain. An alternative solution is that you could digitize 10% or 30 seconds of each audio clip, keeping the four fair use factors in mind.
  • Question: Can I print out music lyrics and sheet music and distribute to my students?
  • Answer: No. Do not print and distribute lyrics and sheet music unless they are in the public domain or you have written permission from the copyright holder. You can use up to 10% of the lyrics and sheet music as fair use. Be sure to keep the four fair use factors in mind, and always properly cite your sources.
  • Question: I have a VHS tape that I’d like to convert to DVD. Can this be done?
  • Answer: You cannot convert multimedia from one format to another format (VHS to DVD, tape to CD, etc.) unless you have written permission from the copyright owner, the video is in the public domain, or in certain circumstances, such as:
    • you’re making a backup copy of a video for your own archives
    • ex. VHS players are not available for viewing purposes, and the video does not come in DVD format, so convert the VHS tape to DVD format
  • Question: Can I rent videos to show in class?
  • Answer: Yes, as long as the videos were legally obtained and the use is for face-to-face instruction in a nonprofit educational institution.
  • Question: Can I tape TV programs to show in class?
  • Answer: For the first 10 days after you have taped the program, you may show the tape in class twice – once for initial instruction and a second time for reinforcement. You cannot edit the tape, so do not remove commercials. You can choose to fast forward over commercials and sections of the program while playing the video in class, however. You can retain your copy of the tape for your own review for 45 days, at which time you must destroy your copy of the taped program (copying over the tape is fine). If you require more viewing time than these restrictions allow, check the station’s website, for many television stations will offer more extensive rights to educators (such as PBS). In addition, you can contact the television station to request additional viewing rights.
  • Question: My evening class finished their mid-term exam early. I have a personal copy of Jaws with me. Can I give my students a nice break and show it in class?
  • Answer: No. You are not allowed to show a movie in class for entertainment purposes unless you have expressed written consent, you have paid the copyright holder (or a licensing firm) for the rights to show the movie in class for entertainment purposes, or the movie is in the public domain.

In Your Blackboard Sites

  • Question: Can I post scanned-in documents (from textbooks, journals, newspapers, etc.) in my Blackboard sites?
  • Answer: You can scan up to 1,000 words or 10% (whichever is less) of the text source. If you need to use more content than that, contact the copyright holder and ask permission. Be sure to keep the four fair use factors in mind, and always properly cite your sources.
  • Question: Can I digitize a newspaper cartoon and place it in my Blackboard site?
  • Answer: No. Request permission from the copyright holder.
  • Question: Can I take images from a website or scan in images from a text source to post in my Blackboard site?
  • Answer: Yes, as long as the images are in the public domain, you have expressed written consent from the copyright holder, or you’re using the images in a manner consistent with the four fair use factors. Always properly cite your sources.
  • Question: How should I be posting web links in my Blackboard sites?
  • Answer: Have web links open in an external window, otherwise the web pages will open in the Blackboard right-hand frame and the address for the site will not appear in the browser web address field. Some users may incorrectly believe that you were the creator of the website and content.
  • Question: Can I post audio clips (songs, interviews, etc.) in my Blackboard site?
  • Answer: For audio clips, post 10% or 30 seconds of the clip. If the clip is a recording that is available online, post a link to the site where the recording is located rather than store the clip in your Blackboard site. If you need to post the entire clip, you can do so if you have contacted the copyright holder for expressed written consent, you have paid the copyright holder (or a licensing firm) for the rights to use the audio clip in your course, or the audio clip is in the public domain. Be sure to keep the four fair use factors in mind, and always properly cite your sources. In addition, some copyright holders may allow for less restrictive use of their audio - check their websites for more details.
  • Question: I have a DVD version of a movie that I’d like students in my Blackboard site to view online rather than have come to campus to view. Is this possible?
  • Answer: BSU’s Maxwell Library streams digital content following these criteria:
    • If it is owned by Maxwell Library, it may be streamed for an entire semester
    • If it is public domain or Creative Commons licensed materials, it may be streamed for an entire semester
    • If it is personal copies of digital materials, it may be streamed once for ten days only
    Please Note: Maxwell Library does not stream content from DVDs rented from third-party providers such as Netflix or other libraries. All streamed content is removed from the server at the end of each semester. Contact the Maxwell Library Circulation Desk for further information on streaming digital content at 508.531.1392 or libraryweb@bridgew.edu

Outside the Classroom

  • Question: The University is hosting an athletic event on campus. Can I play music CDs that I own for the audience during the event?
  • Answer: Only if you have expressed written consent or you have paid the copyright holder (or a licensing firm) for the rights to publicly play the music for a live audience. Otherwise, you cannot play the music even if you are not charging admission. You can work with music licensing firms, who act as intermediaries for the music industry and can provide certain playing rights for a fee. Four of these resources are:
  • Question: I am planning to show a movie at a public campus event. Is this permissible?
  • Answer: If the movie is not in the public domain, you will need to request permission with the owner of the copyright and perhaps pay a license fee for the public display of the movie. Even if you are not charging admission, you still need to secure viewing rights. Another method is to work with movie licensing firms who act as intermediaries for the motion picture industry, and can provide certain viewing rights for a fee:
  • Question: I need to find the copyright owner of a piece of artwork. Is there a web resource to help me?
  • Answer: Yes, there is a frequently updated document on the best practices in locating copyright owners of photographic and visual art at this URL:
  • Question: Can I create a backup copy of a piece of software that I own?
  • Answer: Yes, you can create one (1) backup copy for your own personal archives. You cannot share or distribute this copy to others, however.

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