When a Copy Right Can Be Used

Copyright Protection

Copyright Law of the United States of America

and Related Laws Contained in Title 17 of the United States Code

Circular 92

107. Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use

Not withstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copy righted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include-

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for non profit educational purposes;

(2) the nature of the copy righted work;

(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copy righted work as a whole; and

(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copy righted work.

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

Text Version of Copy Right law


Question: How much of someone else's work can I use without getting permission?

Answer: Under the fair use doctrine of the U.S. copyright statute, it is permissible to use limited portions of a work including quotes, for purposes such as commentary, criticism, news reporting, and scholarly reports. There are no legal rules permitting the use of a specific number of words, a certain number of musical notes, or percentages of a work. Whether a particular use qualifies as fair use depends on all the circumstances. See Circular 21 and FL 102.

Question: How much do I have to change in my own work to make a new claim of copyright?

Answer: You may make a new claim in your work if the changes are substantial and creative -- something more than just editorial changes or minor changes. This would qualify as a new derivative work. For instance, simply making spelling corrections throughout a work does not warrant a new registration -- adding an additional chapter would. See Circular 14 for further information.

Question: What is a copyright notice? How do I put a copyright notice on my work?

Answer: A copyright notice is an identifier placed on copies of the work to inform the world of copyright ownership. While use of a copyright notice was once required as a condition of copyright protection, it is now optional. Use of the notice is the responsibility of the copyright owner and does not require advance permission from, or registration with, the Copyright Office. See Circular 3, Copyright Notice for requirements for works published before March 1, 1989 and for more information on the form and position of the copyright notice.

Question: Somebody infringed my copyright. What can I do?

Answer: A party may seek to protect his or her copyrights against unauthorized use by filing a civil lawsuit in Federal district court. If you believe that your copyright has been infringed, consult an attorney. In cases of willful infringement for profit, the U.S. Attorney may initiate a criminal investigation.

Question: How do I get permission to use somebody else's work?

Answer: You can ask for it. If you know who the copyright owner is, you may contact the owner directly. If you are not certain about the ownership or have other related questions, you may wish to request that the Copyright Office conduct a search of its records for a fee of $65 per hour. Additional information can be found in Circular 22.

Question: Could I be sued for using somebody else's work? How about quotes or samples?

Answer: If you use a copy righted work without authorization, the owner may be entitled to bring an infringement action against you. There are circumstances under the fair use doctrine where a quote or a sample may be used without permission. However, in cases of doubt, the Copyright Office recommends that permission be obtained.

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