Decision Process

1. Is the work Licensed?

Digital works are nearly always governed by a license agreement or “terms of use.” These terms supersede copyright. If there is no license, proceed to step 2.

2. Is the work protected by copyright?

Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States
Published by Cornell University

If you are trying to determine whether or not an item is still under copyright protection, this chart will help you. There are also many important resources listed in the footnotes, including links to other useful copyright tools. As you work through this process, search Copyright Records, Copyright Renewal Records, and Copyright Renewal Registrations (1950-1977) to determine current copyright status.

Please note that if you are working with a digitized version of a text, the digital file is also copyrighted. You may wish to use the original version of the text so that you make greater use of your right to Fair Use and the Public Domain.

3. Is the intended use fair?

Thinking Through Fair Use
When deciding whether or not individual uses of copyrighted material falls under fair use, you must weigh four factors: 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 (U.S.C Title 17, Section 107).

4. Does the library have a licensed copy that you can link to?

Check the library’s catalog and journal holdings to determine if there is a copy of what you need to use or distribute. Whenever possible, link to these sources rather than downloading and uploading.

You may also want to create links to library resources that would work for faculty, staff, and students who are off campus. This page includes a tool to “Create EZproxy Links,” which will allow people who are off campus to log in for access.

5. If necessary, get permission.

Please see our Requesting Permission page for assistance if you wish to use copyright-protected material in a manner that does not qualify as Fair Use or that you cannot link to from the library’s resources.

Guidelines to aid decision-making