Skip to Main Content

Macdonald DeWitt Library at SUNY Ulster

Copyright and Fair Use: Introduction


The purpose of this guide is to provide faculty, staff, and students at SUNY Ulster with an understanding of copyright law and fair use. While copyright issues can be complex, everyone needs to understand the basics. Failure to comply with copyright law can lead to substantial legal penalties for both you and the college.


SUNY Ulster Copyright Policy

SUNY Ulster Homepage


Almost all forms of original expression that are fixed in a tangible medium are subject to copyright protection, even if no formal copyright notice is attached. Written text (including email messages and news posts), recorded sound, digital images, and computer software are some examples of works that can be copyrighted.

Copyright holders have many rights, including the right to reproduce, adapt, distribute, display, and perform their work. Reproducing, displaying or distributing copyrighted material without written permission infringes on the copyright holder's rights. However, "fair use" applies in some cases within educational settings. If a small amount of the work is used in a non-commercial situation and does not economically impact the copyright holder it may be considered fair use. The following text from the US Copyright Law outlines the four factors used in determining fair use.

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 nonprofit educational purposes;

(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;

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

(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted 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The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

The text above is taken from §107. Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use, Copyright Law of the US. Stanford University copyright website has an excellent description of the issues related to fair use.

Copyright is a complex issue – situations are often not clear cut. The links on the Copyright Resources Handout provides information put together by professional organizations, colleges and universities and government websites with the intent of assisting educators in making copyright compliance decisions.

Contact the library staff for assistance researching a copyright issue. 687-5208.


Copyright and Fair Use animation

Copyright Law Defined

Copyright law, as defined in Title 17 of the United States Code, protects "original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression" for a limited period. Copyright protection includes, for instance, the legal right to publish and sell literary, artistic, or musical work, and copyright protects authors, publishers and producers, and the public.  Copyright applies both to traditional media (books, records, etc.) and to digital media (electronic journals, web sites, etc.). Copyright protects the following eight categories of works:

  1. literary works
  2. musical works
  3. dramatic works
  4. pantomimes and choreographic works
  5. pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  6. motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  7. sound recordings
  8. architectural works

Ownership of a copyrighted work includes the right to control the use of that work. Use of such work by others during the term of the copyright requires either permission from the author or reliance on the doctrine of fair use. Failure to do one or the other will expose the user to a claim of copyright infringement for which the law provides remedies including payment of money damages to the copyright owner.

Ask a Librarian

Profile Photo
Tess Hartman-Cullen
chat loading...
Macdonald DeWitt Library - DEW103


Thank you to Ana Torres at Bern Dibner Library, NYU Division of Libraries, NYU Tandon School of Engineering for the use of much of her libguide on copyright and fair use.