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Copyright Corner

Copyright Corner
September, 2011

Lorre Smith

Using a Copyright Checklist

While there are many explanations of Fair Use on the web and in articles or books, we may find those explanations less than helpful as we are considering whether to use a particular item for our course or on our website. Many times a copyright checklist can help us make a decision.

Copyright checklists guide us in examining our intended use and the nature of the materials we wish to use. You may wish to bookmark one of the checklists below to use each time you need to make a decision for your class, your website or your publication. The Fair Use Checklist produced for The Columbia University Copyright Advisory Office has a section of the checklist for each of the four fair use factors, and it allows the user to check off the aspects that pertain to their specific use. Although it may not pinpoint the final decision, it is a great tool for analysis of the use, and completing the checklist itself is a way to document that a decision was reached after careful consideration and weighing of the four factors. You may wish to complete a printed version of the checklist for each copyright protected item you use in your work in order to document why you decided that it was a fair use and that permission was not needed to make or distribute copies of it.

Here is an example from the section of the Columbia University checklist regarding the first factor of fair use:


Preserving Fair Use Opposing Fair Use
Teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use) Commercial activity
ResearchProfiting from the use
Scholarship Entertainment
Nonprofit educational institutionBad-faith behavior
Criticism Denying credit to original author
News reporting  
Transformative or productive uses (changes the work for new utility)  
Restricted access (to students or another group)  

By going down both columns and checking each item that pertains to the use under consideration, it becomes clear when the preponderance of checks ends up in either the Favoring Fair Use column or the Opposing Fair Use column.

Here is a list of checklists on the web that may be helpful for making decisions regarding fair use.

Columbia University's Checklist

Cornell University's Checklist

University System of Georgia's Checklist

American Library Association Fair Use Evaluator – an interactive tool

Copyright Term and Public Domain: Checklist from Cornell to help determine whether a work produced in the U.S. is protected by copyright

Checklist regarding using materials for distance education [TEACH Act checklist]

If you wish to have a presentation regarding copyright in your class, or for an organization meeting, contact Lorre Smith, University at Albany’s copyright education librarian, to make arrangements: lsmith@albany.edu or 518 437-3946

Blog post created by Lorre Smith