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Copyright & Fair Use

The University at Buffalo Libraries maintains this website to help its community of users better understand the rights and limitations extended to creators and original materials under U.S. Copyright Law. Additionally, this website provides information on the rights of academic users of copyrighted materials for educational purposes. Links are provided throughout the site to more expansive resource documents in the area of copyright and fair use. Information presented through this web site does not constitute legal counsel. Users may also wish to consult the UB Information Technology's Digital Copyright Compliance website for further information.


Copyright insures that owners of original materials have exclusive rights (PDF) of ownership and control over the use of that material by others. A copyright gives the owner the exclusive right to:

  1. make reproductions of the work,
  2. distribute copies of the work,
  3. publicly perform the work,
  4. publicly display the work,
  5. license the work for use by others,
  6. produce derivatives of the work.

To be covered by copyright, a work must be original and fixed in a concrete/tangible "medium of expression" Section 102 of the Copyright Law.) Protectable works represented in fixed media include, for example: books, articles, artwork, music, theatrical works, dance, software, traditional or electronic correspondence, and materials placed or found on the Internet. Performed works are also copyrighted if the live or extemporaneous performance is recorded or documented in a fixed medium such as video or audio recordings.

Registering copyrighted works:

Copyright protection vests automatically upon creation of any protectable work. Placing a copyright notice on the work and registering it with the U.S. Copyright Office are no longer required. These steps, however, are still good practice and provide some legal benefits in the unlikely event of a lawsuit. You may also use a copyright notice as an opportunity to clarify how you prefer to share your work with others. Ownership of copyright means both the right to protection and the responsibility to exercise that protection. That is, one cannot just own the assets; the liabilities belong to the owner, too.

Exceptions to the Copyright Law:

Some materials are not protected by copyright. For example: ideas, facts, U.S. government works, works for which copyright has expired, works in the public domain, and live performances which are not "fixed."

Fair Use in Higher Education

As a general rule, copying, distributing, making derivative works, displaying or performing copyright-protected work requires the permission of the copyright owner. However, copyright law provides several important exceptions to this rule. The best known exception to copyright owners' exclusive rights is fair use.

For purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research, the use made of copyrighted work is a fair use and is not an infringement of copyright. For more information see U.S. Copyright Office - Fair Use and Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use.

Additional Resources