Copyright Tools

Over the past several years, Michael Brewer and the Copyright Advisory Subcommittee of the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy have been developing tools to educate librarians, educators and others about copyright. These now include the Public Domain slider, the Section 108 Spinner, the Fair Use Evaluator, and the Exceptions for Instructors eTool. These tools are all available online for anyone to use or link to.

Using these educational tools can help educators and others become more comfortable utilizing the limitations and exceptions to the exclusive rights granted to the copyright holder under U.S. Copyright law. By exercising these valuable exceptions, we strengthen copyright’s primary purpose–“to promote the progress of science and useful arts” (U. S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8).

Currently, many smaller institutions may feel they do not have the personnel or expertise to manage their institution’s use of copyrighted material in any way other than using a one-size-fits-all, guidelines-based approach. Other institutions simply abandon the educational exceptions entirely and purchase a blanket license for through a clearinghouse rights provider like the Copyright Clearance Center. These tools can help your institution responsibly manage instructional or scholarly uses of copyrighted materials (reserves, e-reserves, and materials used in-class or in hybrid/distance education, etc.). Urging faculty and instructors to use the tools during a fair use evaluation or to verify that their use of copyrighted material meets the requirements of the face to face teaching exception or the TEACH Act can be an invaluable educational tool for faculty, students and staff.

Public Domain Slider

Public Domain Slider graphicThe Public Domain slider is a tool to help determine the copyright status of a work that is first published in the United States.  Most of us know that any work published before 1923 is in the public domain, but the copyright status for copyrighted works after 1923 can be difficult to determine because of varying copyright registration requirements over the years and because the term of copyright has changed a number of times.  The good news is that there are many works in the public domain that have been published after 1923 because registration was not renewed and/or the copyright symbol – © – does not appear on the work.  If a work is in the public domain, you are free to use that work in any way that you choose – digitize it, re-publish it, post it on the web etc. – of course with appropriate attribution.  

For those works that are still protected by copyright, don’t forget to consider fair use (pdf) to determine if the work can be used in other, more limited ways. 

Section 108 Spinner

Section 108 Spinner graphicSection 108 of the U.S. Copyright Code allows libraries & archives, under certain circumstances, to make reproductions of copyrighted materials without the permission of the copyright holder. This simple tool can help you determine whether or not a particular reproduction is covered by this exemption.



Fair Use Evaluator

Fair Use Evaluator graphicThe Fair Use Evaluator is an online tool that can help users understand how to determine if the use of a protected work is a “fair use.” It helps users collect, organize, and document the information they may need to support a fair use claim, and  provides a time-stamped PDF document for the users’ records.


Exceptions for Instructors eTool

Exceptions for Instructors eTool graphicThe Exceptions for Instructors eTool guides users through the educational exceptions in U.S. copyright law, helping to explain and clarify rights and responsibilities for the performance and display of copyrighted content in traditional, distance and blended educational models.



Copyright Genie

The Copyright Genie

OK, so the Copyright Genie can't grant copyright wishes, but it can take the magic out of copyright by:

  • Helping you find out if a work is covered by U.S. copyright
    • Calculating its terms of protection, and
    • Collecting and publishing the results (as a PDF) to save for your records or further vet with a copyright specialist.



    Technology & Tool Modification

    • The Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial Share Alike license allows you to modify and use this tool under specific circumstances. For more information, see:
    • The Digital Slider Public Domain tool and the Section 108 Spinner each use Adobe Flash. It is recommended that institutions only modify the contact information and copyright resources links notes (details on how to make these changes/additions are given in a readme.txt file provided with the tools).
    • The Exceptions for Instructors eTool and the Fair Use Evalua tor use html, css & php. They are fully configurable, though only specific areas of the tools should be modified, in order to ensure they remain faithful to the law.
    • All of the tools need only to be mounted on a server (Windows or Linux). They require no other specialized hardware, software or maintenance.
    • In order to keep track of how much these tools are used, we’d appreciate it if you did not remove our Google Analytics tag in the headers on any of these tools. This helps us know how many users we are reaching and how they are finding our tools.
    • Please do not remove any of the disclaimer information or information that qualifies any of the uses or text provided in the tools.


    If you feel a tools needs to be updated (for technical reasons – e.g. browser compatibility, etc. – or for legal reasons – e.g. errors on the tool or changes to the law, etc.), please let us know, so that we can make those changes.  If you have feedback or ideas for future development or upgrades to the tools, please let us know by contacting Carrie Russell at crussell [AT] alawash [DOT] org.

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