Copyright and Legitimate Use

A word on copyright and the use of electronic resources

In the same way that movies on DVD or streaming, music on CD or MP3, and books or ebooks are protected by copyright, so too are the contents of the library's databases. Much of what is available on the internet is protected as well even if you don't see a copyright symbol. The ethical use of information begins with respect for copyright.


Copyright protections and library uses

Copyright protections exist to save for a work's creator(s) certain exclusive rights over use of a book, article, song, movie, or other creative expressions. These exclusive rights include the creator's right to do the following (17 USCS 106):

  • Duplicate the work
  • Distribute copies of the work publicly
  • Prepare derivative works
  • Perform the work publicly
  • Display the work publicly

Copyright law provides exemptions that limit the above exclusive rights, so that individuals may make limited use of copyrighted works for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research. Four factors determine whether a copy made for these purposes constitutes fair use (17 USCS 107):

  • Purpose and character of the use
  • The nature of the copyrighted work
  • The amount of the work copied
  • The effect of the use on the market for the copyrighted work

Each time you use a work - whether quoting a line or passage, adding a musical sound clip to a slideshow or webpage, using a digital image in a paper or webpage, or even copying an article for multiple people - the application of the above factors may present different outcomes as to whether a use is fair. Each use of a work should be considered separately, and no use is automatically protected by the fact that use may be done for an educational purpose.


Database and Electronic Journal Licensing

North Central College Library Services licenses most of the electronic resources provided through its website. These licenses contractually provide the library and our users with permission to use the copyrighted content found in those resources in ways that do not violate the protections of the publishers and authors. Most licenses  stipulate that single copies of articles may be downloaded or printed by individual users for their own use only. Licenses also cover whether a user may create a link to a specific article within the database or website. For guidance on linking to a specific article within a database consult this guide:

It is important to note that free commercial websites also have terms of use or copyright and use statements that serve as a use license. These statements indicate valid uses and copyright limitations, and may also indicate that linking to pages other than the main page is prohibited.

Licenses include restrictions against certain uses, particularly against mass downloading of articles or pages, the selling of downloaded or printed contents, or excessive printing and/or duplication of single articles. Some licenses prohibit the inclusion or article printouts in coursepacks without prior permission. Violations of license terms could result in financial consequences for the violator, and in extreme cases, could result in the removal of the resource for all college users. If you are in doubt about a particular use of materials from a database, please ask a librarian.



This webpage is prepared as an information service to faculty, staff, and students of North Central College. The information on this page does not serve as legal advice.