Rules of Thumb

Knowing what is and is not protected by copyright is sometimes confusing, especially when using copyrighted materials for classroom activities. To simplify the multitude of copyright laws and exceptions, WCC offers the following Rules of Thumb that students and faculty can keep in mind:

WCC Rules of Thumb - Copies for Classroom, Coursepacks, and Music

Copies for use in the class are generally covered by the 1976 agreed-upon guidelines set out in Circular 21 from the Office of Copyright. These guidelines may be found at and at

Many believe these guidelines are too restrictive. A rule of thumb similar to that for coursepacks set out below may be followed. Essentially, the guidelines depend on brevity (defined specifically for specific types of material), spontaneity (defined as "no time to get permission), and charging students no more than the cost of the photocopy.

Coursepacks are the quintessential fair use problem in education. If the coursepack is prepared by or copied by a for-profit business, permissions must be obtained.

If, however, you are doing to copying yourself or charging only the cost of the photocopies, fair use may apply. We recommend that you complete and keep a "fair use analysis" for each portion of a copyrighted work that you use. A fair use worksheet is has been developed by Cornell University and is available at

This analysis will help to protect you if your right to use the material is challenged. In general, material may be copied for distribution to the students in a coursepack if:

  • The material is limited in amount and does not go to the "heart of the work."
    • single chapters
    • single articles from a journal issue
    • several charts, graphs or illustrations
    • other similarly small parts (in any case no more than 10%) of a work.
  • The material cumulatively is small in proportion to the amount of assigned reading for the course.
  • Any copyright notice on the original is included.
  • Appropriate citations and attributions to the source are given.

You must obtain permission for materials that will be used repeatedly by the same instructor for the same course.

WCC Rules of Thumb - Electronic Reserves

Instructors may place materials on electronic reserves if:

  • Access to the material is restricted to students in the course. Access is terminated at the end of the term.
  • Amount of material used meets fair use guidelines, i.e., only a small part of the original is used (a chapter, an article, several charts or graphs, less than 10% of the original) and the reserve reading in total is a small in proportion to the assigned reading for the course.
  • The instructor, the College, or the library possesses a lawfully acquired copy of the material.
  • Notice of copyright and attribution to the source is placed on the first page, including the library’s Section 108(f)(1) notice.
  • Permission must be obtained if the material will be used in subsequent terms, unless the book is out of print and not readily available.

See also WCC Library Reserve Policies Chart. More detailed information regarding generally accepted fair use principles may be found in the CONFU Fair Use Guidelines for Electronic Reserve Systems, see, e.g.,

WCC Rules of Thumb - Multimedia Presentations

The CONFU Fair Use Guidelines for multimedia presentations are a somewhat complex set of rules and specifications for the incorporation of others' copyrighted works into a multimedia presentation for educational uses. The guidelines are conservative and do not define the limit of fair use. They should be considered, but the important thing to remember is to use only a small portion of the work, and make only necessary copies of the multimedia work.

Briefly, students and faculty may incorporate portions of others' works into their own multimedia presentations without asking for permission, as long as the purpose and use are for use in class, for a class assignment, for one's own portfolio, or for presentation at a professional conference. Copyright acknowledgement and appropriate attribution to the sources are necessary. These fair use rules allow the use of others' works in creation of an original work, not to making or distributing copies of it What is meant by a "portion" is also specifically defined by CONFU, and the limits are said to be cumulative for each person's work for one semester or term.

  • Motion Media: Up to 10% or 3 minutes, whichever is less, in the aggregate of a copyrighted motion media work.
  • Text Material: Up to 10% or 1000 words, whichever is less, in the aggregate of a copyrighted work consisting of text material. An entire poem of less than 250 words may be used, but no more than three poems by one poet, or five poems by different poets from any anthology may be used. For poems of greater length, 250 words may be used but no more than three excerpts by a poet, or five excerpts by different poets from a single anthology may be used.
  • Music, Lyrics, and Music Video: Up to 10%, but in no event more than 30 seconds, of the music and lyrics from an individual musical work (or in the aggregate of extracts from an individual work), whether the musical work is embodied in copies, or audio or audiovisual works.
  • Illustrations and Photographs: A photograph or illustration may be used in its entirety but no more than 5 images by an artist or photographer may be reproduced or otherwise incorporated as part of an educational multimedia project. When using photographs and illustrations from a published collective work, not more than 10% or 15 images, whichever is less, may be reproduced or otherwise as part of an educational multimedia project created under Section 2.
  • Numerical Data Sets: Up to 10% or 2500 fields or cell entries, whichever is less, from a copyrighted database or data table.

For a more complete explanation of these guidelines, try the following website: