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Copyright Resources: Copyright Basics

This guide is an introduction to copyright and fair use for academic institutions.


This guide is an introduction to copyright and fair use for academic institutions.

For questions regarding D. Samuel Gottesman Library-licensed electronic resources (e-journals, e-books, databases), please e-mail: .

Copyright Means the Right To Copy

Copyright "has come to mean that body of exclusive rights granted by law to authors for protection of their work. The owner of copyright has the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, and, in the case of certain works, publicly perform or display the work; to prepare derivative works; in the case of sound recordings, to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission; or to license others to engage in the same acts under specific terms and conditions."*

*United States Copyright Office:A Brief Introduction and History, Circular 1a, U.S. Copyright Office, Library of Congress, Washington, DC,

Exceptions to the Rule

Copyright is not an absolute right. The following two exceptions are of particular importance to academic institutions.

  • Public Domain -- Copyright lasts a limited number of years. Once it expires, the work is considered to be in the public domain and can be freely used and altered. Copyright has expired for all works published in the United States before 1923. No new works will fall into the public domain until 2019, when works published in 1923 will expire. In 2020, works published in 1924 will expire, and so on. (Read more about Public Domain from the Copyright and Fair Use website published by the Stanford University Libraries.
  • Fair Use -- This principle is based on the idea that the public is entitled to freely use portions of copyrighted materials under certain circumstances. U.S. law states that four factors generally must be considered in determining whether the reproduction of an item constitutes fair use:
    • purpose of the use, including an educational purpose;
    • nature of the original work;
    • amount of the work used;
    • effect of the use on the potential value of the original work.

More about fair use can be found on the Copyright in the Classroom page of this guide.


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Winifred King
D. Samuel Gottesman Library
Albert Einstein College of Medicine
Jack and Pearl Resnick Campus
1300 Morris Park Ave.
Bronx, NY 10461