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Copyright: Step 5: Consider whether there is a copyright law exception covering the use you wish to make

This guide provides information (not legal advice) to support NWC community decision-making in the use of copyright protected material in research, learning, and teaching.

Purpose of Guide and Disclaimer

This guide intends to refer NWC community users to accurate information. However, information received from the NWC Library or the NWC Copyright Librarian is neither legal advice/opinion nor legal counsel to the college or any members of the NWC community. Please contact the NWC Office of General Counsel or NWC Staff Judge Advocate's Office for NWC-related legal advice and interpretation of the law, or personal counsel for personal legal advice. The appearance of hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by NWC of sites or the information, products, or services contained therein, nor does NWC exercise editorial control over the information found at these locations. Such links are provided consistent with the stated purpose of this guide. U.S. copyright law is subject to change.

What are Copyright Exceptions?

Copyright law limits the exclusive monopoly it grants authors in several ways. It grants exceptions for many of the reproduction activities typically performed by libraries and for performance and display uses typically practiced during in-person classroom instruction. If all of the provision’s conditions are met, such specific uses are not copyright infringements.

The Classroom Use Exception

Copyright law places a high value on educational uses but educational use is not a blanket exception. The face-to-face or in-person Classroom Use Exemption (17 U.S.C. §110(1)) only applies in very limited situations to display or perform (not copy) a work, but where it does apply, it gives some pretty clear rights.

In order to determine whether your use applies to this exception, use the Exceptions for Instructors in U.S. Copyright Tool.

Other Exceptions

There are other exceptions, exemptions, and limitations in copyright (17 U.S.C. §§ 107-122).

A few interesting examples:

  • Libraries are allowed to provide copiers and other reproduction equipment without being liable for users' copying as long as a copyright notification is displayed. Commercial copy shops, by contrast, may be liable for any infringing copies made on their machines.
  • Small businesses are allowed to have radios and TVs where customers can see and hear them (under certain conditions). If not for this exception, the TVs and radios might constitute unauthorized public performances.
  • Music stores are allowed to play the music they are selling in order to promote sales.


Adapted from George Mason University CC-BY 4.0 International License