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SOM Copyright Resources: Fair Use and Obtaining Permission

Licensed Content

The Health Sciences Library purchases licenses to a large amount of online material including databases, e-books, e-journals, images and videos. Although you do need to cite these sources, all of these resources are free for your use without the need to obtain permission from the copyright holders.

Be sure to check the library's holdings before you search for these resources elsewhere. If you need help locating something in particular don't hesitate to ask a librarian for assistance!

What is Fair Use?

Fair use is a concept that allows for the use of copyrighted works for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research without seeking permission from the copyright holder.

The following factors are used to determine fair use:

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

(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; and

(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

It is important to note that even though you do not need permission to use a copyrighted work for situations covered by fair use you still need to give credit to the creator and cite your work!

Creative Commons

Creative Commons Licenses work alongside copyright to allow people the right to share, use, and even build upon a work you’ve created in accordance with permissions you get to choose. For example, you could choose to allow your work to be freely used for any non-commercial purpose. There are millions of works, including scientific and academic materials, available to the public for free and legal use through Creative Commons.

Public Domain

When something is in the public domain it is not subject to copyright law. Generally, this includes works with expired copyrights and U.S. government documents.

U.S. government documents are considered to be free to the public and are not covered by the copyright law. Therefore, government documents are usually within the public domain unless they specifically state that they have restrictions on their use. However, documents created by the governments of other countries may be copyrighted.

When copyrights do expire, the works pass into the public domain and are freely available for use. Anything published before 1923 is no longer copyrighted, but if the work was created after that it is best to check the "Copyright Term and the Public Domain," a chart created at Cornell.


The TEACH Act is a copyright exemption that was created to benefit distance education teaching and learning.  It addresses the use of copyrighted materials in teaching in an online environment.  Even if a class is taught in a face to face setting, anything that is provided through an online course management system, such as Blackboard, could fall under the TEACH Act. Its primary purpose is to balance the needs of distance learners and educators with the rights of copyright holders.

In order for the use of copyrighted materials in distance education to qualify for the TEACH exemptions, the following criteria must be met:

  • The institution must be an accredited, non-profit educational institution.
  • The use must be part of mediated instructional activities.
  • The use must be limited to a specific number of students enrolled in a specific class.
  • The use must either be for 'live' or asynchronous class sessions.
  • The use must not include the transmission of textbook materials, materials "typically purchased or acquired by students," or works developed specifically for online uses.
  • Only "reasonable and limited portions," such as might be performed or displayed during a typical live classroom session, may be used.
  • The institution must have developed and publicized its copyright policies, specifically informing students that course content may be covered by copyright, and include a notice of copyright on the online materials.
  • The institution must implement some technological measures to ensure compliance with these policies, beyond merely assigning a password. Ensuring compliance through technological means may include user and location authentication through Internet Protocol (IP) checking, content timeouts, print-disabling, cut & paste disabling, etc.

For more information on the TEACH Act see the Tools & Resources tab of this guide.



Copyright Basics: The TEACH Act [Internet]. Danvers, MA: The Copyright Clearance Center; 2005 [cited 2015 Nov 20]. Available from:

Obtaining Permission

If you want to use a copyrighted work for a purpose outside the bounds of fair use (eg: when creating course materials, research papers, and web sites) you must obtain permission to use it. Permission may be obtained in one of two ways:

1. Obtaining permission through the Copyright Clearance Center

Copyright Clearance Center provides a streamlined and efficient way to obtain permission to use copyrighted information in both print and digital formats. The CCC can often provide instant authorization for the use of copyrighted materials, can seek permission from creators on your behalf, and provides the rights to use and share content published outside of the U.S. Hofstra University Library also subscribes to the Academic Annual Copyright License from the CCC which provides faculty, librarians, research and administrative staff with comprehensive, institution-wide coverage for the reuse of text-based content in both print and electronic formats for educational and research purposes.

To find out more about using Hofstra's Academic Annual Copyright License visit their guide.

To obtain permission to use a copyrighted work from the Copyright Clearance Center visit their website at

2. By contacting the creator directly

Once you determine the copyright holder you can contact them to ask permission to use the work. Be sure to include:

  • Your name, address, telephone number and e-mail address
  • Your title, position and institution's name
  • The date of your request
  • The title of the work to be copied with a description and citation of that work
  • A description of how the work is to be used, by whom and for how long
  • A signature line for the copyright holder to sign, signifying that permission has been granted

If you require assistance with getting permission to use materials in your curriculum or have questions about the Copyright Clearance Center please email Debra Rand.

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