How to Write a Research Paper: Copyright

A step-by-step guide.

Copyright Basics

The United States copyright laws are designed to prevent people from copying and distributing other people's work without permission. This includes both paper copies (i.e., photocopies) and electronic copies (scanned or uploaded).

In an academic setting there is a fair use exception to copyright, but it is only available if you meet the guidelines. If you do not meet the guidelines, permission must be sought.

Fair Use

Fair Use is a doctrine of the United States copyright law that allows limited use of copyrighted works without seeking permission typically for the purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. In determining whether or not use of a copyrighted work is fair the following factors should be considered:

  • the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  • the nature of the copyrighted work;
  • the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole;
  • and the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

Copyright 101

Getting Permission

If you cannot meet the photocopying guidelines, then you must get permission to copy and distribute the work. Requests should be sent on letterhead, together with a self-addressed return envelope, to the Permissions department of the publisher or proprietor in question. Include in the request:

  • A complete description of the material to be used including author, title, editor, compiler, translator, and edition.
  • The exact portion of the material, pages, and a photocopy if possible
  • A description of how it will be used, including how many times, the number of people it will be distributed to, under what conditions (i.e. on or off campus, online course...)
  • How the material will be reproduced (photocopy, off-set, digitized, etc.)
  • A place for the recipient to sign to indicate that permission has been granted.

The Copyright Clearance Center (CCC) also has the right to grant permission and collect fees for photocopying rights for certain publications. It is often the fastest and most efficient way to obtain permissions.

Photocopy Guidelines

These guidelines provide a minimum standard of educational fair use. The guidelines represent three standards: brevity, spontaneity, and cumulative effect.

I. Single Copy
A single copy of the following may be made for an individual's own scholarly research or in preparation for a class:

  • a chapter from a book;
  • an article from a periodical or newspaper;
  • a short essay, story, or poem;
  • a chart, graph, diagram, drawing, cartoon or picture from a book, periodical, or newspaper.