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Waidner-Spahr Library

Copyright & Scholarly Communication: Copyright Use FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions about using copyrighted materials


This page provides answers to frequently asked questions about copyright for the Dickinson College community.  You should also review the Dickinson College Copyright Use Policy. Copyright issues are ever evolving as technology and information sharing options and opportunities explode around us.  The current economic, social, and legal landscape makes an understanding of copyright law not just widely relevant, but also challenging. These FAQs offer information on frequently encountered copyright questions today.   If you have questions about using copyrighted materials, whether in e-reserves, on course management sites, on other sites, or in face-to-face classroom settings, we hope you'll find the answers you're looking for here. If you don't find the answers you need, please contact us at the Waidner-Spahr Library ( for additional assistance.

Fair Use Determination

How do I determine if my intended use qualifies as “fair use”?
All four fair use factors must be weighed in deciding if this exception to copyright applies in a particular circumstance. This Fair Use Evaluator can help you decide if your intended use is "fair use" and create documentation of your fair use analysis for your records. 


Public Domain

How do I know if a work is already in the “public domain” and thus can be used freely?
“A work of authorship is in the ‘public domain’ if it is no longer under copyright protection or if it failed to meet the requirements for copyright protection. Works in the public domain may be used freely without the permission of the former copyright owner.” (from U.S. Copyright Office Definitions - FAQ).  Out of print works may still be protected by copyright. Works published freely on the Internet may still be protected by copyright.  For guidelines to determine if a work is in the public domain, see the American Library Association’s Office for Information Technology Policy “digital copyright slider” at:

These sites also provide the ability to search for works in the public domain.

If you cannot find what you need in the public domain, consider using resources with a Creative Commons license that allows for reuse of material for free for educational purposes, provided there is attribution to the creator of the work. Several different versions of Creative Commons licenses exist; review the applicable license terms for the work you wish to use.

Getting Permission

I have determined that my desired use probably does not fall under the “fair use” exception, nor is the work in the public domain.  How do I request permission to use the work at no cost?
[NOTE: if your question is about an assigned reading for a class, see "COURSEPACKS" below.]
First you will need to verify who currently owns the copyright, as it may not be the original author of the work.  For journal articles, it is often the journal publisher; for films, it is often the distributor.  Check the website of the publisher or film distributor as they often have a web form or a contact email you can use to request permission.  You will need to provide details of your intended use (type of use, size of audience, if use will be private or restricted or open to the public). You should get written permission for your intended use (an e-mail response if fine). If you do not get an explicit written or email response giving permission, you may not use the work outside of fair use or other exemptions permitted by copyright law.  If a work has a “Creative Commons” license, you should examine that license for permitted uses.

Moodle Postings

Is it “fair use” for me to post an entire work that is copyrighted (full length film, entire songs, full-text) in Moodle?
A general principle is to use only as much of a work as is needed in compliance with the four factors of the fair use exception to copyright law to meet your educational objectives unless you obtain a license or written permission to use more.  Under fair use, if possible, provide only a link to a legal copy, such as an “open access” copy on the Internet or a link to a digital copy owned by the library or available through a library subscription. For posting entire films, some exceptions may apply depending on the nature of the film and your educational purpose. Contact the library to discuss options for meeting your educational objectives ( Again, you should use only as much of the film as required and in compliance with fair use exception unless a license or written permission is obtained.  Academic Technology may be able to digitize a small portion or clip of a film within the guidelines of fair use.  This segment can then be place in your Moodle course. The library has purchased or subscribed to some collections of online streamed films, to which you may link from Moodle. The library also subscribes to collections of streaming classical music and jazz music through Naxos. With popular songs, as with video, you are allowed to create a short clip or sample under the guidelines of fair use.  However, if you can find a legal online version of the song, it may be easier to simply link to it from Moodle.  [See the Moodle Best Practices tab on this guide for additional tips.]

Group Film Showings

My department/student club wants to host an extra-curricular film series for group showings of films on DVD from the library and our personal collections.  (This is not a required course session.)
You may show the film IF you have “performance rights” or written permission from the current copyright holder, typically the film distributor.  For more information on obtaining performance rights, see:  

I will just use my personal NetFlix account to host a group showing of a film for my club/campus group.
You will need to review the current Netflix contract to determine if this use is allowed, but NetFlix has specified in its past “Terms of Use” documents that it “is solely for your personal and non-commercial use”.

Some friends and I just want to watch movies in the dorm for fun.  Is that okay?

Casual viewing of films by small groups of students in their dormitories is permitted as “home” use.

Copying Films

Will Academic Technology make digital copies of a film for me? (or copy LPs to CD, or digitize a DVD to stream on Moodle, or copy my VHS tape to DVD, etc).
Copyright law does not allow routine copying of films to a different format.  Some exceptions may apply depending on the nature of the film and your educational purpose.  Contact the library to discuss options for meeting your educational objectives (  For course use, the library may be able to purchase a copy for the library collection in your desired format.  If you want your students to view the entire video outside of class time, you may place it on reserve in the library and request that additional legal copies be purchased if needed for a large class. Academic Technology may be able to digitize a small portion or clip of the movie within the guidelines of fair use.  This small segment can then be placed in your Moodle course.  The library has also purchased or subscribed to some collections of online streamed films, to which you may link from Moodle.

Using Images in Printed Posters, Flyers, Etc. 

I am creating a flyer/poster for a campus event, and would like to include images I found on the Internet.  Is this okay?
Any image found on the Internet may be copyrighted, and thus you should not assume you may use it in a flyer or poster without permission.  Search the Creative Commons Openverse site for content “you can share, use and remix”.  It is also possible to purchase “clip art” or “stock photo” collections that you may use in other works subject to the terms of the collection you have purchased.

Course Packs

I have a question about using material in a course pack. Who should I contact?

Questions concerning copyright for course packs can be directed to the college bookstore:

Multiple Copies for Library Reserve

I want to make (or have LIS make) multiple copies to put on reserve at the Library because I have a large number of students who will need to use the material.
Making multiple copies to loan violates copyright law.  Requests for the library to purchase multiple legal copies of a film for the library will be considered on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration the cost and the number of students who will need access.  Film purchase requests may be sent to the liaison librarian for your department.   

Interlibrary Loan

Are there copyright costs for my interlibrary loan?  
Copyright Act Section 108 permits sharing of copyrighted materials via interlibrary loan (ILL) services under specific conditions. Following established ILL guidelines (CONTU guidelines [link]), the Library tracks our users’ requests and pays required copyright fees once guidelines have been met. This cost is absorbed by the Library; there are no fees charged back to individual users.   

I need an entire issue/volume for my research.   Can I submit individual requests for every article in a particular journal issue or volume?  
The Library copyright exception that allows for interlibrary loan does not allow copying of entire journal issues or volumes.  If you need an entire issue or volume, please contact your liaison librarian. We may be able to purchase the issue without purchasing a subscription.  

Reporting Suspected Copyright Violations

I think material posted on the Dickinson website may violate copyright.  Who can I contact about this?
If you believe your copyright has been infringed on a web site hosted by Dickinson, please contact our DMCA agent via the Office of General Counsel at