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Copyright & Fair Use

This guide provides a general overview of copyright issues.

Copyright and Fair Use

Welcome to the Copyright & Fair Use guide.  This guide is designed to provide general information about copyright at Widener University and the exceptions that exist for education and libraries.  If you would like more detailed information, or advice for a specific use of potentially copyrighted works, please contact Kristina Dorsett (

What is Copyright?

The idea of copyright comes from the concept of having the right to copy and make a profit from intellectual property (IP).  Copyright is given to creators by their government as a way to ensure they can be rewarded for their creativity.  In the US, copyright covers six basic rights.  This means that if someone besides the creator uses IP in any of these ways, they are breaking the copyright that the creator has with the US government.

The 6 Rights of Copyright 

  • The right to reproduce the work
  • The right to prepare derivative works based upon the work
  • The right to distribute copies to the public for sale
  • The right to publicly perform the work
  • The right to publicly display the work
  • The right to digitally transmit sound recordings

In the US, copyright is automatically granted once an idea is fixed in a tangible medium of expression.  This means that it has been written or recorded in a way that it could be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated.  You can't copyright an idea without expressing the idea in some way.

What is Fair Use?

The fair use exception (Section 107 of Title 17) permits the reproduction of a portion of a copyrighted work without the copyright owner's permission, under certain circumstances.

Every fair use decision requires careful scrutiny of four factors.  Each factor stands on its own, and each must be considered separately to determine fair use.  This analysis should be done each time before a use is made.  Keep in mind that it is the combination of the answers to all four questions that make up the final determination.

Fair Use Factors Characteristics of Fair Use Characteristics of Infringement
1. Purpose and character of your use of the work Noncommercial, educational, scholarly, newsworthy, or transformative Commercial and/or entertainment
2. Nature of the work used Factual, based on public documents Creative
3a. Amount and substantiality of the work used Small portion and not the "heart" of the work Entire work
3b. Proportion of your work which is made up of the copyrighted work Small % of your new work Majority of your new work
4. Economic effect of use Little or no devaluation or money lost Substantial actual or probable money lost because of use
This is a guide to copyright information and issues for Widener University students and faculty. Information in this library guide does not supply legal advice nor is it intended to replace the advice of legal counsel.