Copyrighted materials may be photocopied without permission from, or payment to, the copyright owner, if it is a "fair use," a doctrine recognized by American courts for nearly a century and a half whose principal purpose is to protect the public interest in the dissemination of knowledge. This doctrine is endorsed in the text of the act, which explicitly refers to the allowable reproduction of copyrighted works for purposes, such as "criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research."


Do I need to post a copyright notice above our photocopy machine?

A posted warning notice may protect the institution from penalties if the photocopier is used to violate copyright by unsupervised persons. The form and its wording are provided below, courtesy of Stanford University’s copyright site.


The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material. Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or other reproduction. One of these specified conditions is that the photocopy or reproduction is not to be “used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research.” If a user makes a request for, or later uses, a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in excess of “fair use,” that user may be liable for copyright infringement. This institution reserves the right to refuse to accept a copying order if, in its judgment, fulfillment of the order would involve violation of copyright law.

I’d like to photocopy the sections of the text we’re going to use in class and distribute them to students. Then they won’t have to buy the text.

This is a clear violation of copyright. See the Circular 21 from the Copyright Office. It has specific language that prohibits making copies as a substitute for purchasing books or periodicals.

How much of an item am I allowed to photocopy?

There are definite limits to the amount of a work that can be photocopied. A faculty member wishing to make a single copy for research, teaching, or in preparation for teaching may copy one chapter from a book, one article, one short story, or one short poem from a particular book or periodical. If the copying is meant for classroom use and multiple copies are being made, the critical criteria are brevity and spontaneity.

For more detailed information, including definitions of brevity and spontaneity, please see the sources listed here:

United States Copyright Office–Circular 21–Reproduction of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians
24 pages of information about photocopying and other methods of reproducing copyrighted works in the educational setting.

The University of Wisconsin–Office of Administrative Legal Services–Photocopying Guidelines for Teaching and Research 
Concise. Provides the most pertinent information from Circular 21.

Copyright Clearance Center–The Campus Guide to Copyright Compliance–Using Content: Photocopies
Photocopying by students and members of the faculty.

Copyright Clearance Center–The Campus Guide to Copyright Compliance–Exceptions for Libraries and Archives
Photocopying by librarians and archivists.