Just as librarians and others have developed guidelines for using copyrighted printed material, it’s essential that students and faculty understand there are limitations on the use of copyrighted information online. The ease of transferring online information to a computer and into a report or lesson plan makes having clear “fair use” guidelines even more important in the digital age.

The following guidelines were developed by the Conference on Fair Use, which included educators, publishers, and the U.S. Copyright Office. They build on print-related guidelines created after the passage of the 1976 Copyright Law.

Here are the fair-use limits for electronic resources, by type of media:

• Motion Media: Up to 10 percent or three minutes, whichever is less, of a single copyrighted motion media work.

• Text: Up to 10 percent or 1,000 words, whichever is less, of a single copyrighted work of text.

• Poems: An entire poem of less than 250 words, or no more than 250 words from a larger poem. Also, use from a single anthology is limited to no more than three poems by one poet or five poems by different poets.

• Music, Lyrics and Music Video: Up to 10 percent, but no more than 30 seconds of music and lyrics from a single musical work. In addition, any alterations of a musical work cannot change the basic melody or the fundamental character of the work.

• Illustrations and Photographs: No more than five images by one person and no more than 10 percent or 15 images from a single published work may be used. As with music, alterations cannot change the fundamental character of the work—but they can be made with the intent, for example, of showing the impact of changing colors.

• Numerical Data Sets: Up to 10 percent or 2,500 fields or cell entries, whichever is less, a common issue in business and economics courses today.

The above restrictions are cumulative for each semester of a course, so if students put together several multimedia projects for a single course, they cannot exceed these limits for all combined projects within each semester. K-6 students are exempted from such restrictions. Also, while students are not allowed to use copyrighted material in projects outside of the classroom, they are allowed to keep their classroom work as part of their portfolios for college admissions, internship applications, and so on.

For teachers, use is allowed at conferences, seminars, and other professional events. However, a teacher must get copyright permission if he or she plans to use the material in a project for more than two years.

When using copyrighted material and adhering to these guidelines, a presentation should include the following language, displayed prominently at or near the beginning: “This presentation was created following the Fair Use Guidelines for Educational Multimedia. Certain materials are included under the Fair Use exemption of U.S. Copyright Law. Further use of these materials and this presentation are restricted.”

By following these guidelines, teachers and students do not need prior permission from copyright holders—i.e., they have a green light for usage on these limited bases.