Brown University Copyright and Fair Use

Brown University

Frequently Asked Questions

What is copyright?

Copyright refers to specific exclusive rights granted the owner of a copyright in Title 17 of the US Code. You can read summary information about copyright in Copyright Basics ( on the US Copyright Office web site.

What is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA)?

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA) of 1998 legislated to extend explicit copyright protection to intellectual property owners of works perceived to be different from traditional copyrightable works like literary works or motion pictures.

Do US copyright laws apply to all members of the Brown University community?


What is fair use?

Fair use refers to an exemption specified in copyright that can allow use without permission in some cases. There are factors that must be considered when pursuing fair use. You can read more about fair use and fair use tools in the Fair Use section.

Fair use privileges extend to everybody, permissions depends on the individual's analysis of the four factors in each case.

Why is Brown University making copyright policy and a statement about fair use?

Fair use is essential to education, research, and scholarship. Unlike copyright laws, fair use is considered a "privilege" and not guaranteed by law. Fair use is a privilege that must be defended against erosion by copyright holders who seek to limit or eliminate fair use privileges, in favor of commercial licensing.

Everyone at the University should be aware of the implications of copyright law and the critical role of fair use of copyrighted material in the teaching, research, and scholarship mission of Brown University.

Every educational or research use of copyrighted material is covered by fair use, right?

No. You should perform the four factor fair use analysis to help determine whether your use is covered under fair use.

How do I get permission to use a copyrighted work if my use is not allowed by fair use?

You need to get written permission from the copyright holder or his/her agent.

How much in advance should I seek permission?

Seek permission as far in advance as possible. Some common guidelines recommend 3-9 weeks.

My request for permission was refused by the copyright owner. What can I do now?

You must not use a work if permission has been refused by the copyright holder. You can attempt to negotiate use in further correspondence or pay a licensing fee, where possible. Above all else, have an alternative to the material or curtail your use to comply with fair use principles.

Document all steps you take to get permission as completely as possible.

I can't find locate the copyright owner or the copyright owner hasn't responded to my request. What's my next step?

A "good faith" effort to gain permission does not equate to permission to use a copyrighted work. You will need to reassess your case to determine whether you should use the copyrighted work.

Document all steps you take to get permission as completely as possible.

Will Brown University defend me if I comply with the fair use guidelines and Brown University's copyright policy?

Brown University, to the extent legally permissible, indemnifies faculty or staff members against all liabilities and reasonable legal expenses in connection with the defense or disposition of any civil action, suit, or proceeding in which he/she may be involved or with which he/she may be threatened as a consequence of discharging his/her responsibilities and duties as an employee of Brown University, provided that the actions taken by the employee are within the scope of employment, are in good faith and are undertaken with the reasonable belief that such actions are consistent with University policy and are in the best interests of the University. The University retains the right to direct, settle, compromise and/or otherwise define said action, suit or proceeding, including representation and the use of counsel as it deems desirable. There is no protection for acts which are personal/private or not performed within the scope of the assigned institutional duties and obligations. The University does not handle the defense of students.

If you receive any legal notice citing Brown University, notify the Office of the General Counsel immediately at 401-863-9900.

Can I be held personally liable if Brown is sued for copyright violation?

If Brown and only Brown is sued, no. However, you may also be named in an action either in your official capacity as an employee of the University or personally. When named personally, there are usually allegations that the named person either acted outside the scope of his/her duties, or was intentionally violative, or acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner in carrying out his/her duties.

Current interpretations of copyright laws seem to favor corporate rights over educational fair use privileges. Who advocates on behalf of educational and research institutions?

Brown University's Community and Government Relations office advocates for issues important to Brown University. Also, many library, academic, and non-profit organizations advocate for fair use privileges in education and research environments.

Where can I find information about copyright and the world wide web (WWW)?

The law firm Oppedahl & Larson LLP have compiled an excellent informational FAQ about web law. This is not legal advice from Oppedahl & Larson LLP or endorsed by Brown University.

Another article "10 Biggest Myths about copyright explained," written by Brad Templeton offers some straight talk about copyright and the internet.

Additional links and sources of information

The web site offers detailed information on copyright in the online environment.

Questions not covered in this FAQ

If you have a question that is not addressed in this FAQ, please send it to