Copyright & Fair Use

The USA copyright derives from Britain. After the printing press became widespread, the printer or stationer who printed the book held a copyright granted by the crown. The copyright was held in perpetuity – forever. As individual and commercial rights developed, the right to make a copy shifted from the printer to the creator (author) of the intellectual property. In 1710, British Parliament enacted the Statute of Anne. This law established important provisions of current copyright thinking including the concept of public domain – the right for society at large to be able to obtain a copy of an original manuscript or book after a set number of years of publication.

Definition of copyright

The legal right granted to an author, composer, playwright, publisher, or distributor to exclusive publication, production, sale, or distribution of a literary, musical, dramatic, or artistic work. (American Heritage Dictionary)

Fair Use – USA Congress first placed the concept of “fair use” in so many words into law in 1976.

“One of the rights accorded to the owner of copyright is the right to reproduce or to authorize others to reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords. This right is subject to certain limitations found in sections 107 through 118 of the Copyright Act (title 17, U. S. Code). One of the more important limitations is the doctrine of “fair use.” Although fair use was not mentioned in the previous copyright law, the doctrine has developed through a substantial number of court decisions over the years. This doctrine has been codified in section 107 of the copyright law.” (US Copyright)

The four principles of fair use:

Commercial Use or Non-commercial Use of the copy
Amount copied
Effect (commercial viability) on the Original
The Nature of the Original – fiction or Non-fiction

Some common examples of fair use –

A single copy of a chapter from a book
A single copy of a poem (up to 250 words)
A single copy of a cartoon
Other Considerations

Does the copy have a transformative effect – is it a Value Add to the original or a mere copy of the original?

DeMinimis - In some cases, the use of material such as photos within a motion picture are allowed. If the use of the image is if very short duration, if the image is unfocused, or if the image is difficult to recognize, then the use is allowed as DeMinimis.

Public Performance Rights

Unless a film or video is shown inside a person’s home, it is considered a public performance. To lawfully show a film (or substantial portion) outside the home, a person or organization needs a public performance license. The exception is a very restricted set of guidelines for educators when showing film in a classroom.

The OLM Media Center holds a public performance rights license for select film studios and film companies from Church Video License -- . This license allows Mercy to show many films without direct curriculum need. A list of authorized film sources (producers) is available from the Media Center.

The latest edition of Copyright for Schools (by Carol Simpson) is available in the Media Center. It is among the most widely held references of its kind in USA schools.


“The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language” 4th edition – Boston: Houghton-Miflin, 2000

Carol Simpson JD, Ed.D

Movie Licensing USA

“Copyright for Schools: a Practical Guide” 4th edition, by Carol Simpson – Worthington, Ohio: Linworth Books, 2005.

“Copyright Law and Practice” by William F. Patry

“Fair Use in Copyright” – Bitlaw, a Resource in Technology Law

"Copyright Basics Video" from the Copyright Clearance Center - a fast paced jaunt through copyright and fair use considerations for the office and te classroom with square jawed Jim the Librarian.

Stanford University Libraries

US Copyright Office