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Fair Use and Copyright: Welcome


This guide was created by library faculty in consultation with CUNY's Office of General Counsel and is intended to support the CUNY community in making independent, informed decisions about copyright compliance and educational fair use. 

What is copyright?

Copyright is a form of protection granted by U.S. law to the creators of “original works of authorship” including scholarly and creative works. It gives creators certain exclusive rights. Creators do not have to register their work or attach a copyright notice in order for copyright protection to apply to the work; the protection exists automatically from the time the work is created.

What is Fair Use?

Fair use is a limitation on the exclusive rights of a copyright holder. If a proposed use meets the “fair use” criteria, and the user hasn’t agreed to abide by other terms—such as through a license agreement or a website’s terms of usea copyrighted work may be used without permission.

Creating Content vs. Using Content

Copyright protections apply to both scholarly and creative works that you create and works that you use.  

If you want to use a work for a project or class, and are unsure if you need permission from the copyright holder, you can consult this checklist created by the CUNY Office of Legal Affairs and read about the copyright exceptions (like "fair use") in the FAQ section on the right side of this page. 

Even though copyright protections are automatic, there is also a lot of multi-media and educational content available for reuse. In cases where an individual wants to make a work they created available for others to use, they may opt to use a Creative Commons license that specifies exactly how others can use their work. The Creative Commons search widget  on the right side of this page will let you search for reusable multimedia content. Scholars can also opt to publish their works in Open Access journals or negotiate with publishers to retain some rights to their work.

What can you do to make your own work available? You can license your own scholarly and creative work through Creative Commons or use an author addendum before agreeing to a restrictive publication agreement. 

Copyright: Forever Less One Day

Search for reusable content on the web

Enter your search query:

use for commercial purposes;
modify, adapt, or build upon.

Search using:

Fair Use and Copyright FAQs

What rights do Copyright holders have?

How long does Copyright last?

How can I decide if a use is fair?

What is the Teach Act?

What is the DMCA?

What should I know about file sharing and P2P?

Who owns copyrightable works created at CUNY?

What is Creative Commons and how does it relate to copyright?

Fair Use in a Pandemic

With the move to remote teaching and research in the COVID-19 pandemic, copyright specialists revised fair use considerations summarized in a Statement on Fair Use & Emergency Remote Teaching & Research and discussed in an April 2020 Association of Southeastern Research Libraries webinar.

CUNY library resources provide readily available online course content. Link to library-licensed articles, books, chapters, and recordings rather than upload them to a course platform. Some vendors have extended access to their products in response to the pandemic. This access will be short-lived, not durable. Contact librarians to help locate content that is available library subscriptions, or published openly.

If a licensed version of a work is not available to link to, conduct a fair use analysis to determine the suitability of providing a copy. Sharing reproductions of in-copyright works --  scanned texts or copied digital files -- requires consideration similarly applicable to distributing copies in-person.

  • It falls within fair use guidelines to share portions of works with students, for non-commercial, educational purposes.
    • Copy only as much as is needed for the pedagogical purpose.
    • It is less likely to be considered an infringement to reproduce parts of works, not entire works.
    • In unusual circumstances, or when works are otherwise unavailable, it may be considered fair use to copy lengthier portions of a work.
  • Limit access (using password protection) to enrolled students, only for as long as it is required by the course.

Adapted from “Rapidly shifting your course from in-person to online” by Nancy Sims, University of Minnesota Libraries, and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.

Using this guide

This guide is divided into three sections to address our major constituencies:

Faculty and Staff



Have more questions and not finding answers here?

Reach out to your campus library!