Scholarly Communications

Other Rights of Use


Copyrights are subject to many limitations and exceptions that ultimately permit the public to make certain uses of copyrighted works. “Fair use” is probably the best known and most important of these exceptions, but the U.S. Copyright Act includes more than a dozen statutory exceptions. Please note that these exceptions:

  • Are narrow in their application
  • Depend upon meeting a variety of specific conditions

The important point is that the law outlines several ways to making lawful use of copyrighted works in connection with research, teaching, and service at the university.

Please remember, if a use is not covered by an exception, one can also make lawful uses of copyrighted works with permission from the copyright owner. The following is a brief summary of some of the statutory exceptions of importance to the university, with references to the provision of the U.S. Copyright Act:

Displays and Performances in Face-to-Face Teaching (Section 110(1)).

Under this exception, educators may make performances and displays of all types of works in a classroom or similar place at most educational institutions. It allows instructors and students to:

  • Recite poetry
  • Read plays
  • Show videos
  • Play music
  • Project slides
  • Engage in many other performances and displays of protected works

This statute is actually comparatively simple and broad, but keep in mind that it permits only displays and performances in the classroom—not the making of copies or the posting of digital works on servers.

Library Copying (Section 108)

This section permits libraries and archives to make copies of materials:

  • For preservation and security
  • To give copies to users for their private study or research
  • To send copies through interlibrary loan

Like most of the statutes, it applies only to certain types of works, and only under certain circumstances.

“First Sale” Doctrine (Section 109(a))

This exception states that once a particular copy of a copyrighted work has changed hands, possession of that copy may be further transferred. In other words, the copyright owner controls only the first sale, and cannot control the downstream selling, lending, renting, and other dispossession of that copy of the work. This exception allows the following scenario to lawfully occur:

A bookstore can sell a book ’ the customer can resell it online ’ the new owner can donate it to a library ’ the library can let a patron check it out.

Recently, the Supreme Court addressed this exception in the Kirtsaeng decision, holding that “the ‘first sale’ doctrine applies to copies of a copyrighted work lawfully made abroad.”

Public Displays (Section 109(c))

One of the rights of copyright owners is the right to make “public displays,” but this statute allows the owner of a lawfully made copy of a work to display it to the public at the place where the work is located. For example:

  • Art museums that own a painting may hang it on the wall
  • Bookstores can place books on display in front windows
  • Libraries may put materials in the display cases for all to see.

Displays and Performances in Distance Education (Section 110(2)).

This statute is known as the TEACH Act" and was revised in 2002 to address issues of online education. The new law allows:

  • Posting of materials to servers
  • Materials to be displayed or performed to students at remote locations

Be careful: These exceptions are not the same as the Classroom Use Exemption and are subject to a long list of conditions. Many colleges and universities are struggling with this statute, and many rely instead on fair use or permissions.

Computer Software (Section 117).

This exception allows the owner of a copy of a computer program to:

  • Modify the program to work on his or her computer or computer platform
  • Make a back-up copy of the software to use in the event of damage to or destruction of the original

Realistically, most commercial programs are sold for use on multiple platforms, or the rights of use may be governed by license agreements.

Architectural Works (Section 120).

Architectural designs and blueprints are protected by copyright, but this exception makes clear that once a building is constructed at a place visible to the public, anyone may make and use a picture of that building without infringing the copyright in the architectural design.

Special Formats for Persons with Disabilities (Section 121).

This exception permits certain organizations to make specific types of formats of published, non-dramatic literary works in order that they may be useful to persons who are blind or have other disabilities. For example, some educational institutions and libraries may be able to make large-print or Braille versions of some works in the collection.


Adapted and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial from works produced by the Copyright Advisory Office of Columbia University and its former director Kenneth D. Crews.

This web site presents information about copyright law. The University Libraries make every effort to assure the accuracy of this information but do not offer it as counsel or legal advice. Consult an attorney for advice concerning your specific situation.

Most Recent Revision: July 10, 2015

Page last modified July 10, 2015