The Copyright Act allows anyone to photocopy copyrighted works without securing permission from the copyright owner when the photocopying amounts to a “fair use” of the material (17 U.S.C. SS107). The following guidelines describe the boundaries of fair use of photocopied material used in research or the classroom or in a library reserve operation. Fair use cannot always be expressed in numbers – either the number of pages copied or the number of copies distributed. Therefore, an instructor should weigh the various factors listed in the Act and judge whether the intended use of photocopied, copyrighted material is within the spirit of the fair use doctrine. Any serious questions concerning whether a particular photocopying constitutes fair use should be directed to College counsel.


At the very least, instructors may make a single copy of the following for scholarly research or use in teaching or preparing to teach a class:

  • A chapter from a book
  • An article from a periodical or newspaper
  • A short story, short essay or short poem, whether or not from a collective work
  • A chart, diagram, graph, drawing, cartoon or picture from a book, periodical or newspaper

These examples reflect the most conservative guidelines for fair use. They do not represent inviolate ceilings for the amount of copyrighted material which can be photocopied within the boundaries of fair use. When exceeding these minimum levels, however, you should consider the four factors listed in Section 107 of the Copyright Act to make sure that any additional photocopying is justified. The following demonstrate situations where increased levels of photocopying would remain within the range of fair use:

  • The inability to obtain another copy of the work because it is not available from another library or a source cannot be obtained within your time constraints;
  • The intention to photocopy the material only once and not to distribute the material to others;
  • The ability to keep the amount of material photocopied within a proportion reasonable to the entire work (the larger the work, the greater amount of material which may be photocopied).
  • Most single-copy photocopying for your personal use in research – even when it involves a substantial portion of a work – may well constitute fair use.


  • Educators have, with publishers, developed the following guidelines which allow a teacher to distribute photocopied material to students in a class without the publisher’s prior permission, under the following conditions:
  • The distribution of the same photocopied material does not occur every semester;
  • Only one copy is distributed for each student which copy must become the student’s property;
  • The material includes a copyright notice on the first page of the photocopied portion of material;
  • Students are not assessed any fee beyond the actual cost of the photocopying (In addition, educators agree that the amount of material distributed should not exceed certain brevity standards. Under those guidelines, a prose work may be reproduced in its entirety if it is less than 2500 words in length. If the work exceeds such length, the reproduced excerpt may not exceed 1000 words, or 10% of the work, whichever is less. In the case of poetry, 250 words is the maximum permitted. These minimum standards normally would not be realistic in the University setting. Faculty members needing to exceed these limits for college education should not feel hampered by the guidelines, although they should attempt a “selective and sparing” use of photocopied, copyrighted material.)
  • The photocopying practices of an instructor should not have a significant detrimental impact on the market for the copyrighted work. 17 U.S.C. SS107(4). To guard against this effect, you should not repeatedly photocopy excerpts from one periodical or author without the permission of the copyright owner.