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Copyrighted material can be used freely if it is in the public domain, which is the case where the work is no longer protected by copyright or never met the requirements for copyright protection in the first place. Because works in the public domain are no longer protected by copyright, they may be freely used without permission.
Determining whether something is truly in the public domain can be difficult. This chart from Cornell University is a commonly used reference source that can help.
Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright law provides for the use of copyrighted materials under certain circumstances defined as “fair use.” The law lists required criteria to determine if a particular use can be considered fair use under the law.
These tools can help:
Digital Copyright Slider. The American Library Association created this tool to determine a work's copyright status. Simply slide the arrow to the publication date of the material in question.
Fair Use Evaluator is another, similar tool.
Exceptions for Instructors eTool for information related to the Teach Act.
University of Iowa Fair Use Analysis Checklist. This checklist, from UI Libraries, helps students determine whether their use of copyrighted materials applies to fair use.
Determining Fair Use.This helpful infographic can assist with determining Fair Use.
Copyright Crash Course provides extensive information about fair use from University of Texas.
Thinking Through Fair Use. A guide from the Minnesota University Library allows you to generate a customized fair use analysis.
Code of Best Practices: Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries. This code was developed by and for academic and research librarians.