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Copyright and fair use information

Amherst College adheres to and promotes observance of U.S. copyright laws. Those laws protect the rights of authors, artists, composers, and other copyright holders without stifling scholarship and teaching. Therefore, the College also supports fair use of copyright materials by educational institutions.

What follows are brief, general principles to help members of the Amherst College community follow current US copyright laws.

1. Certain works and types of works are not protected by copyright or are considered in the public domain, including:

  • Any work published before 1923;
  • Works published between 1923 and 1963, if the original copyright was not renewed;
  • Most compilations of facts, such as the periodic table, the phone book, etc.;
  • US Government publications, though some agencies may display on their web sites licensed images for which they do not own the copyright;
  • Processes or methods, though particular descriptions of processes and methods may be copyrighted.

2. Other works, whether texts, audio, video, images, photographs, web sites, etc., are protected by copyright. They include:

  • Works, especially creative works, published between 1923 and 1978, which are protected for a term of 95 years from the date of original publication if the creator renewed the copyright;
  • Never-published works created before 1978 are protected for 70 years after the death of the creator; and,
  • Works created after 1978, published or not, are protected for 70 years after the death of the creator.

3. Some creators have begun to publish works under “Creative Commons” licenses, which allow the creator to determine how, in limited ways, others can use their works. Often, creators who choose to use Creative Commons licenses allow educators and students to use their works provided they are doing so in the context of education.

4. US Copyright law includes “Fair Use” guidelines for using copyrighted materials without first seeking permission. These are:

  • The purpose and character of the use: best if for non-profit, educational purposes;
  • The nature of the copyrighted work: best if non-fiction and more like data than creative work;
  • The amount and substance used relative to the work as a whole: the smaller the amount, the better; and,
  • The effect on the potential market or value of the copyrighted work: the smaller the effect, the better.

The University of Minnsota offers a tool you may find useful in deciding whether your use of a given work constitutes Fair Use. Of course such a tool is not a substitute for legal advice.

5. In the context of “mediated instruction,” faculty and students can share a poem, listen to a song, look at a slide of contemporary art, watch a movie, perform a scene from a play, etc., provided they have a legally obtained copy of such works and are doing so in a face-to-face setting or via a course website. Access to these resources must be tightly limited to the students enrolled in the course, and the materials must be accessible only while the students are enrolled in the course. Notice of the user’s rights and responsibilities when using this material must be presented with the material.

6. Fair use and the guidelines that exempt certain uses of copyrighted works in the classroom also apply to works placed on reserve in the library; however, permission must be obtained when copyrighted material will be used repeatedly by the same instructor for the same course. Access to electronic reserves must be limited to students enrolled in the course and terminated at the end of the course.

7. The act of circumvention of copy-protection utilities is itself illegal, even if the content so protected can be legally used.

8. Faculty members cannot share or copy and distribute pre-packaged materials that are typically purchased by college students for independent use and retention, such as text books, educational CD-ROMS, or course packs in any media.

9. Faculty members, not Amherst College, are responsible if they infringe copyright law. However, if Amherst College is notified that a particular faculty member has received two notifications of copyright violations for actions taken in the course of his/her work at the College during the preceding three years, the College will be liable if the same faculty member, again, violates copyright law.

10. Use the Library's electronic reserves service to make copyrighted works available electronically for your students.

Amherst College Resources

Rightsholders should direct any inquries and complaints about possible copyright infringements to:

John Manly  (dmca[at]
Director of Systems & Networking
Rm B-15 Converse Hall
Amherst College
Amherst, MA  01002-5000