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Copyright and Licensing

This guide provides basic information on copyright and licensing of creative works.

What is fair use?

While you usually must seek permission or a license to use a copyrighted work, U.S. Copyright Law does grant an exception for “fair use.” The fair use provision allows someone to copy or use a portion of a work without license for “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching…, scholarship, or research,” as well as for parody (think of Weird Al Yankovic). To claim fair use, one must consider the following four factors:

1. How and why are you using the copyrighted work?

Are you using the work for research/education/commentary?

2. What is the “nature of the copyrighted work” you are using?

Is the original work a research/educational work, a commercial work, or both (novel, book of poetry)?

3. How much of the original work are you using?

Are you only using a small snippet of the work or a substantial portion of the work? You have a better case for fair use if you are using the smallest necessary portion of the work for your purpose.

4. How will your use of the work affect the “potential market or value of the copyrighted work?”

Will others be able to use your work instead of the original work (in which case, you may be harming the potential market of the copyrighted work)? To count as a fair use, your use of the work must be “transformative,” creating something new.

WMU Libraries Fair Use Checklist

As you prepare your honor's thesis, master's thesis, or dissertation, think about how you are using other's works. If you are using images, substantial portions of text, or screenshots of videos or movies, you may need to seek permission. Use the checklist below to think through the Four Fair Use Factors. Fair use in NOT cut and dried. But the more educational and research-based your use is, the better case you can make that your use is fair use.

WMU Libraries Fair Use Checklist (consider including the completed version of this checklist with your thesis and dissertation).

The WMU Libraries Fair Use Checklist is an adaptation of a checklist from the Copyright Advisory Office of Columbia University, which was developed by Kenneth D. Crews and Wayne Buttler, and released under a Creative Commons - Attribution 4.0 license. 


Scholarly Communications, Copyright, and Licensing Librarian

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Edward Eckel
Room 1067
Waldo Library