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 most of 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:

Rights of Use for Instructors

Displays and Performances in Face-to-Face Teaching

Under this exception (from Section 110(1)), 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.

Online & Distance Teaching

Section 110(2) of Title 17 U.S. Code, commonly called the TEACH Act, identifies specific exceptions to copyright for distance and online teaching.  The TEACH Act was signed into law in 2002, and was intended to give online and remote educators a set of exemptions from copyright similar to those for face-to-face classroom instruction.  

However, these exemptions are not identical to the Classroom Use Exemption, and require that instructors, their university or school, and their institution's distance learning technology all meet a long list of conditions.  Many colleges and universities struggle to comply with these conditions, and many choose to rely instead on fair use or on permissions.

Other Rights of Use

Library Copying

Section 108 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

This exception in Section 109(a) 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

One of the rights of copyright owners is the right to make “public displays,” but this statute from Section 109(c) 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.

Computer Software

This exception from Section 117 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

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

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 license 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.