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How To Do Research

Copyright and Fair Use

Copyright law applies when completing an assignment, preparing projects, papers, or copying materials from other sources of works.  Student research is intended to be original to them. Often however, the educational process relies upon refencing works completed by others. This can include using established data, quoting ideas or authors, including diagrams, drawings, photos, or audiovisual works into your research. The responsibility to ensure that it complies with copyright law, and the VSC Copyright Policy.

What is not protected by copyright?

  • facts or ideas
  • titles, names, short phrases, or slogans (although these items may be protected under trademark law)
  • commonly known information
  • procedures, methods, systems or processes
  • works of the United States Government
  • works that have passed into the public domain

Fair Use

Fair Use is a part of copyright law (section 107 of U.S. Code Title 17) that allows exceptions to copyright law for the needs of students and teachers. Generally, fair use is any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and "transformative" purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work (Richard Stim, Stanford University Libraries). Such uses can be done without permission from the copyright owner. "Fair Use" is based on a combination of 4 factors:

  1. The purpose of the use - (Used for educational vs commercial or financial purposes)
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work - (avoid taking substantial excerpts from creative, and consumable works that are meant to be purchased)
  3. The amount of the material used - (Less is best when taking excerpts/10% of the complete work is considered reasonable to copy)
  4. The effect of use on the potential market for, or value of, the work - (Is your use having an impact on possible profits/income of work)

Frequently Asked Questions


Nothing on this guide is to be construed as legal advice. These pages are intended to provide information and guidance in the application of copyright law.