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Copyright Guide

This guide provides information, guidelines, and resources on copyright law for Marine Corps University faculty, students, and staff.

What is Fair Use?

Under the “fair use” rule of copyright law, an author may make limited use of another author’s work without asking permission. Fair use is intended to support teaching, research, and scholarship, but educational purpose alone does not make every use of a work fair.

 “Fair use” is open to interpretation. It is always important to analyze how you are going use a particular work against the following four factors:

  1. What is your purpose in using the work?  Are you going to use the material for monetary gain or for education or research purposes?
  2. What is the characteristic nature of the work – is it fact or fiction?  Generally it is more difficult to justify fair use for works of the imagination.  Works that contain facts are more open to fair use justification since the facts and ideas themselves are not copyrighted.  What is copyrighted is the sentence structure, expression, or form in which the facts are presented or fixed.*
  3. What amount and what is the substantiality of the amount you going to use? Are you using a small or large amount? Is it the significant or central part of the work? If you are using a large amount of the work or the most significant content of the work, it may not be fair use.
  4. What effect will your use of the work have on the potential market value of the work? If your purpose is for research or education, your effect on the market value may be difficult to prove. However, it you are using it for educational purposes and you are using the entire work, the majority of a work, or the section that can be seen as the central and most significant content of a work, then you may be denying the rights holder the opportunity to sell that work for use by your students in your classroom, and that is not fair use.  If your purpose is commercial gain, then you are not following fair use.

 * Plagiarism, or passing off someone’s ideas or research as one’s own, is a different issue and not covered in this guide.

Evaluation Tools

Over the past several years, Michael Brewer (Senior Information Resources Officer (Interim) - University of Arizona Libraries/Chair of the American Library Association Copyright Advisory Subcommittee) and the American Library Association Copyright Advisory Subcommittee have been developing tools to educate librarians, educators, and others about copyright. These now include the Public Domain Slider, the Section 108 Spinner, the Fair Use Evaluator, and the Exceptions for Instructors eTool. These tools are all available online for anyone to use and links are provided below.

Using these educational tools can help educators and others become more comfortable utilizing the limitations and exceptions to the exclusive rights granted to the copyright holder under U.S. Copyright law. By exercising these valuable exceptions, we strengthen copyright’s primary purpose–“to promote the progress of science and useful arts” (U. S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8).

These tools are available under the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial Share Alike License. The Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial Share Alike license allows you to modify and use this tool under specific circumstances. Visit:

Online Resources


Guidelines for Classroom Copying - Circular 21

  • These guidelines are not law - they are just guidelines.
  • They cover analog and digital formats.
  • They have been used in court cases.
  • Following them does not guarantee protection from liability.

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