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Can I use it?

There are several issues to consider when figuring out if copyright requires you to seek permission (and possibly pay a fee) for the reproduction, distribution, performance, and display of creative or expressive works. Remember, this guide does not provide an answer to the can I use it question; only you can make that decision.

1. Is the work covered by copyright?

Decide if the work is eligible for copyright protection. If not, copyright is not an issue. If yes, go to part 2.

Is the work in the public domain? If yes, copyright is no longer an issue. If no, go to part 2.

2. Is your use allowed?

Does your use fall under an allowed exception to copyright, such as face-to-face teaching or distance learning?

Can you link to the work through a library subscription? Can you place the material on reserve?

Is the work available under a Creative Commons or similar open license?

If you answered yes for any of these questions, copyright is an issue, but your use may be allowed. If no, go to part 3.

3. Is your use covered by fair use?

Have you considered all four fair use factors? We recommend University of Minnesota's fair use analysis tool to assist in that consideration.

If you believe your use is fair use, it may be allowed. If not, your should seek permission. Stanford's copyright research overview offers steps on how to find copyright owners and seek permission.

If permission to use a copyrighted work is denied, you may need to use a different work, purchase legal copies for your use, or seek further advice.


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  •     Gail McMillan
  • Gail M McMillan
  • Director, Digital Library and Archive
  • 540-231-9252
  • gailmac@vt.edu
  • 2036 Newman Library (0434)
    560 Drillfield Drive
    Blacksburg, VA 24061