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Digital Scholarship: Navigate copyright

The University Libraries' Digital Scholarship initiatives.


Professors and students regularly make decisions related to copyrighted works. Can a student show a video as part of a class presentation? Can a professor copy an article from a journal and distribute it to a class via Blackboard? How much text from an article can a student quote before it becomes copyright infringement? This guide was created as a starting place for those who want to learn more about copyright.

United States Copyright Office: "Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U. S. Code) to the authors of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works".

Missouri State University has a copyright policy. This subject guide provides links to practical tools that can help you decide how to use materials in your setting.

Copyright during COVID-19

Some copyright experts and librarians consider fair use allowances to lean more toward exemption during COVID-19 affected online teaching. Due to library staff not being available to scan and place digital materials online, faculty are encouraged to use the fair use checklist tools linked on this page and then digitize their own material if they deem it fair use. The materials could then be shared through authentication controlled Blackboard courses. If you have specific questions related to copyright, feel free to send Joshua Lambert a message.

Quick Reference

Fair use

"Fair use" allows copyrighted materials to be used under certain circumstances. You can try to determine whether your use of materials is fair use by using the following four factors, as set forth by Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act.

  1. the purpose and character of the use
  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
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

Sadly, about the only way to know for sure that your use is fair use is to convince someone to sue you, and then get the court to rule in your favor. That said, there are ways to minimize the risk when using copyrighted material. See the links to the left of this page for practical resources that can help you determine whether your use falls under fair us.