U.S. Copyright Law and "Fair Use"

In the United States, intellectual property rights are governed primarily by the Copyright Act of 1976 (Public Law 94-553). The doctrine of "fair use" that it spells out suggests the following guidelines for college research:

For an unpublished research paper,

  1. A student may freely make a single copy of copyrighted material for research purposes only.
  2. A student may make "fair use" of copyrighted material by reproducing it or quoting from it in a research paper.
  3. "Fair use" of such material always includes acknowledgement of the source.

For a published research paper (such as a paper posted on the Web),

  1. Short quotations to support an argument or to illustrate a review may be used without permission.
  2. Again, "fair use" of such material always includes acknowledgement of the source.
  3. To reproduce lengthy quotations, photographs, drawings, and the like, the researcher must secure permission from the legal holder of copyright.
  4. "Fair use" may be violated if the borrowing could affect the market for the original work, if the amount borrowed is excessive, if the source is not acknowledged, or if the original is misrepresented in some way.

Note: I am not a lawyer, and these guidelines are merely a summary of a layman's understanding of a complex legal field; therefore, these guidelines do not constitute professional legal advice.

Sometimes holders of copyrighted material grant blanket permission on-screen. For example, notice the illustration at the top of an informational Web page that I've created:


At the bottom of the page you will find my acknowledgement of the source and a link to the copyright holder's site. If you follow the link, you'll notice that the designer of the site has posted specific requirements for the use of her material, and that my Web page is in compliance with them.


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