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Copyright Basics

Provides information about U.S. copyright law, including rights of users, permission, and the public domain.

Copyright Questions?

The University of Michigan Library Copyright Office provides help with copyright questions for University of Michigan faculty, staff and students. Please email us with questions or visit our website for more information.

Legal Advice

The information presented here is intended for informational purposes and should not be construed as legal advice. If you have specific legal questions pertaining to the University of Michigan, please contact the Office of the General Counsel.

If you require legal advice in your personal capacity, the lawyer referral services operated by the Washtenaw County Bar Association and the State Bar of Michigan may be helpful to you.

General Requirements

The US Copyright Act grants qualified libraries and archives certain rights to reproduce and distribute copyrighted works. These rights are codified at 17 U.S.C. § 108.

A library or archive qualifies for these rights if the

  • reproduction or distribution is not for direct or indirect commercial advantage;
  • the institution’s collections are either
    • open to the public or
    • available to unaffiliated persons doing research in a specialized field; and
  • the reproduction or distribution includes the work’s copyright notice (or, in the absence of a copyright notice, a substitute statement).

In addition, these rights do not apply if the library or archives, or its employee, “is aware or has substantial reason to believe that it is engaging in the related or concerted reproduction or distribution of multiple copies or phonorecords of the same material” or “engages in the systematic reproduction or distribution of single or multiple copies or phonorecords of material described in subsection (d): provided, that nothing in this clause prevents a library or archives from participating in interlibrary arrangements that do not have, as their purpose or effect, that the library or archives receiving such copies or phonorecords for distribution does so in such aggregate quantities as to substitute for a subscription to or purchase of such work.”

Reproduction & Distribution for Preservation

A qualified library or archives is entitled to make up to three copies of an unpublished work currently in its collection “solely for purposes of preservation and security or for deposit for research use in another” qualified library or archives, so long as any copy “that is reproduced in digital format is not otherwise distributed in that format and is not made available to the public in that format outside the premises of the library or archives.”

A qualified library or archives is entitled to make up to three copies of a published work “solely for the purpose of replacement of a copy or phonorecord that is damaged, deteriorating, lost, or stolen, or if the existing format in which the work is stored has become obsolete,” so long as an unused replacement copy of the work cannot be obtained at a fair price and any copy “that is reproduced in digital format is not made available to the public in that format outside the premises of the library or archives in lawful possession of such copy.”

Reproduction & Distribution for Interlibrary Loan

Upon request from one of its users or the user of another qualified library or archives, a qualified library or archives is entitled to make a copy of

  • “no more than one article or other contribution to a copyrighted collection or periodical issue;”
  • “a small part of any other copyrighted work;” or
  • an “entire work, or . . . a substantial part of it . . . if the library or archives has first determined, on the basis of a reasonable investigation, that a copy or phonorecord of the copyrighted work cannot be obtained at a fair price,”

So long as:

  • that copy becomes the property of the requesting user;
  • the institution had no notice that the copy or phonorecord would be used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research;
  • the institution displays a copyright warning in accordance with regulations from the US Copyright Office; and
  • the work copied is not a musical work, a pictorial, graphic or sculptural work, or a motion picture or other audiovisual work other than an audiovisual work dealing with news.

Use of Works in the Last 20 Years of Their Copyright Terms

During the last 20 years of a work’s copyright term, a library or archives in entitled to “reproduce, distribute, display, or perform in facsimile or digital form a copy or phonorecord of such work, or portions thereof, for purposes of preservation, scholarship, or research, if such library or archives has first determined, on the basis of a reasonable investigation” that

  • The work is not subject to normal commercial exploitation;
  • A copy of the work cannot be obtained at a reasonable price; and
  • The copyright holder has not provided notice of the work being subject to commercial exploitation or available at a reasonable price.