Copyright & Fair Use


Hello! Welcome to this micro-course on copyright and fair use. I am Carrie Nelson. I’m the director of Scholarly Communications for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries. A big part of my job is helping researchers, instructors and students organize their work so it can be published, and to get it published and that includes helping them navigate copyright issues. So in this course in particular, we’re going to talk about copyright and the way it impacts how you can reuse other people’s information. Copyright law exists in order to make it easier for people to create and innovate. And, even though most of the times when we hear people talk about copyright, they’re talking about the ways that you’re limited from being able to reuse someone else’s copyrighted work, there are actually lots of times that we are able to reuse other people’s work. The law itself gives lots of exceptions and limits to copyright protections so that we can continue to create and innovate using other people’s stuff. So in this course, we’re going to try and get you the information you need to do that. We are going to cover generally, what copyright is, what the protection is. We’re going to introduce you to all of the things that aren’t even covered by copyright, and there are many of them. There is a system of licensing that makes it really easy to find and reuse things that authors want us to be able to reuse. And then finally, we’ll go through the details of all of the exceptions to copyright law, the limitations that make it easier for us to reuse someone else’s copyrighted work. The most important one of these, the biggest one is fair use, and it can be complicated. But we’re going to make it easier for you. You’re going to have a chance to practice making some decisions about what you would and wouldn’t want to reuse in your new resources as part of this module. At the end of the module, you should be able to confidently reuse other people’s work in the new things you create. As you’re creating these great new works, using other people’s materials, you’re going to run into questions. Some of this is pretty nuanced. You can get help from me. you have my contact information. And, in general, any librarians can help you. This is something that the libraries do all the time and are happy to help you with, so please don’t hesitate to contact us with specific questions or for just more information. I hope this module’s been really helpful to you and that you’re going to be able to go on to create some great new things.


Throughout your academic and professional career you will regularly create documents and other resources that incorporate the work of others. Copyright law automatically allows you to use others’ work in some ways and requires you to get permission to use it in other ways. Familiarity with this copyright system will allow you to take advantage of existing resources while complying with the law. This module provides an introduction to copyright and gives you practice deciding how and when you can use someone else’s work.

Learning Objectives

This module will acclimate you to copyright, fair use and re-use decisions.

Upon completion of this module, you will be able to:

  1. Figure out whether or not a particular work is protected by copyright
  2. Find and recognize works that you already have permission to use in the way you want
  3. Describe situtations you would be willing to rely on the fair use exception to copyright
  4. Decide whether or not to use a particular work in the way you want
  5. Find and access reliable resources for copyright-related information and advice