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Martha S. Grafton Library

Mary Baldwin University Copyright Policy: Fair Use

Policy statements and guidelines for anyone affiliated with the University who wishes to copy, alter, or perform works that are protected by copyright.

Fair Use

What is "Fair Use"?

The doctrine of fair use, introduced in Section 107 of the 1976 Copyright Act, attempts to address the balance between the needs of the public and the rights of an author. Fair use is expressed in the form of guidelines rather than explicit rules. To determine whether the use made of a work is an infringement of a copyright, the following factors should be considered: 

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether the copied material will be for nonprofit, educational, or commercial use. Note: Several courts have held that absence of financial gain is insufficient for a finding of fair use. 

  2. The nature of the copyrighted work, with special consideration given to the distinction between a creative work and an informational work.  For example, photocopies made of a newspaper or magazine column are more likely to be considered a fair use than copies made of a musical score or a short story. Duplication of material originally developed for classroom use is less likely to be a fair use than is the duplication of materials prepared for public use. Someone who copies a workbook page or a textbook chapter is seen to be depriving the copyright owner of profits more directly than someone copying a page from a newspaper.

  3. The amount, substantiality, or portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole. Factors to be considered: the proportion of the larger work that is copied and used, and the significance of the copied portion.

  4. The effect of the use on the potential market of the copyrighted work.  If the reproduction of a copyrighted work reduces the potential market and sales for the copyright owner, the use is likely to be declared an unfair use. 

The interpretation of Fair Use will continue to evolve as new digital technologies affect the creation, distribution, use, and preservation of information.  Open source software and peer-to-peer networking (downloading and sharing digital music, movies, text, etc.) are but two examples of these new technology capabilities.   Recent legislative and regulatory actions have focused on digital rights management, including expanding the ability of content providers to introduce access controls (e.g. encryption).  

How do I obtain permission?

How do I obtain permission for copying that does not meet the Fair Use Guidelines?

Faculty and students should obtain written permission from the copyright owner (author, publisher, etc.) to use a large portion of a work or an entire work (in print or digital format), or to produce multiple copies of book chapters or journal articles (for class handouts, coursepacks, library reserves, websites, publishing, or other uses).  Faculty may pass on to students any fees for copies which the copyright owner may assess. To obtain permission for photocopies:

How do I obtain permission to show/broadcast video materials that currently do not have public performance rights?

Mary Baldwin uses Swank Motion Pictures, Inc. ( to secure public performance rights for feature films.  The Motion Picture Licensing Corporation (MPLC) also represents over 60 producers and distributors, including such studios as Walt Disney Pictures, Warner Bros., Scholastic Entertainment, McGraw-Hill, Sony Pictures Classics, Tommy Nelson, and World Almanac, and provides an Umbrella LicenseSM. Contact MPLC directly with any questions (including license fee quote requests) at phone number 800-462-8855, or via e-mail to See the web site of the MPLC (, for a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) as well as an explanation of the Motion Picture Licensing Corporation (MPLC) Umbrella LicenseSM.

What Can I Use without Gaining Permission?

What materials may be used without first obtaining the copyright owner's permission and/or paying a royalty? 

  • Scholarly publications such as journal articles that include published permission allowing for copying  for educational purposes. 
  • Publications dated 1923 or earlier.
  • Works that do not include a copyright notice and were first published before January 1,1978. 
  • Most United States government documents. 
  • Single Copies (of a chapter of a book, newspaper article, journal article, short story, short essay, short poem, chart, diagram, drawing, or performable unit) for Scholarly Needs or Library Reserve:  Each copy must also include a prominent notice that it is copyrighted material. 
  • Multiple Copies (of the above items) for Classroom Use  must meet the following tests of brevity, spontaneity, and cumulative effect:


Prose Either (1) a complete article, story or essay of less than 2,500 words, or (2) an excerpt from any prose work of not more than 1,000 words or 10% of the work, whichever is less, but in any event an excerpt of up to 500 words.
Poetry Either (1) A complete poem if less than 250 words and if printed on not more than two pages, or (2)  an excerpt of not more than 250 words.
Illustrations One chart, graph, diagram, drawing, cartoon or picture per book or periodical issue.
Special Works Certain works in poetry or prose or in "poetic prose", which may combine language with illustrations and which fall short of 2,500 words, may not be reproduced in their entirety. However, an excerpt comprising not more than two of the published pages of such a work, and containing not more than 10% of the words found in the text, may be reproduced.


  • The copying is at the instance and inspiration of the individual instructor.
  • The inspiration and decision to use the work and the moment of its use for maximum teaching effectiveness are so close in time that it would be unreasonable to expect a timely reply to a request for permission.

Cumulative Effect:

  • The copying of the material is for only one course, with no more than one copy per student in the course.
  • Not more than one short poem, article, story, essay or two excerpts may be copied from the same author, nor more than three from the same collective work or periodical volume during a term.
  • There should not be more than nine instances of such multiple copying for one course during a term.

Copying Never Permitted:

It is never permissible to make copies of consumable materials such as workbooks, tests, and answer sheets.