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WPI Copyright Policy and Guidance: For Faculty

When Can You Re-Use Materials Created by Others?

You can re-use material created by others if one of the following is true:

  • Your use is covered by the fair use doctrine (see below)
  • Their work is not under copyright
  • Their work is under copyright, but you have permission from the copyright owner to re-use the materials

If You Do Not Think You Are Covered by Fair Use

If you do not think you are covered by fair use, you should consider the following:

  • Does someone else already own the copyright to this work? Can I find out who?
  • Does the copyright owner, if there is one, provide information on the use of this work? 
    • The copyright owner might allow re-use in different circumstances through a Creative Commons license or specific permissions in a Terms of Service agreement (find out more about Creative Commons licenses here:
    • Is there a charge associated with re-use?
  • If the copyright owner does not share information on re-use, or the instructions for re-use are unclear, do they provide contact information for questions? You can often reach out to copyright owners directly and request to re-use their materials. Find out more about requesting permission for re-use on the main page of this guide in the 'Requesting Permission' section.

Fair Use and Your Work

From the United States Copyright Office: "Fair use is a legal doctrine that promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances." (Source:

When you are trying to decide whether or not your use of others' work is covered under fair use, you will need to consider the four factors of fair use:

Factor 1: Purpose & Character of Your Use If you are using this work in a way that changes the nature or purpose of the original work, or if your use of the work is educational or for the purposes of criticism, commentary, scholarship, or research, you are more likely to be covered by fair use. You are also more likely to be covered by fair use if you are using copyrighted material for non-consumptive research, such as text and data mining. If your use is commercial, or you are going to profit from the use of a work, then you are less likely to be covered by fair use.
Factor 2: Nature of Their Work If the work you are using is more creative in nature (e.g. an original image), you are less likely to be covered by fair use than you are if it is less creative (e.g. a table of data). If the work you are using is unpublished, you are more likely to be covered by fair use than you are if it is unpublished.
Factor 3: Amount of the Work Taken How much of the original work are you using? If it is a small or insubstantial amount (typically 10% or less, or an amount that does not contain the main substance of the work) you are more likely to be covered than if you are taking a larger or more significant portion of the work.
Factor 4: Market Effect of Your Use If you distribute the original work widely, you could effect sales of the work itself. Therefore, if you are distributing the work online, you are more likely to be covered by fair use if you are sharing on a password protected site (like a Canvas page) with a link, rather than a download of the full text. If you are distributing copies of the work physically, you are more likely to be covered by fair use if you provide instructions to students not to further distribute the work. If you can buy or license the original work at a fair price, then you are less likely to be covered by fair use.


  1. These four factors are interdependent. Consider how your use of the work meets each factor, and determine from there whether or not you think you are covered.
  2. It is best practice to attribute the author of the copyrighted material, even if you are not required to get their permission.

For a colorful flowchart with this information, download the "Fair Use for Faculty Flowchart" below.

Related Guides

Preserving Your Copyright Privilege

When you hold copyright in a work, you have the right to determine where your work is published, who has access, and whether and how it can be re-used. When you publish your work, you may be asked to give away the rights to your work through a publishing agreement, or copyright transfer agreement. If you simply transfer your copyright, this will have consequences for how you can use your own work in future: you may not be able to distribute copies of your work to your students and colleagues, adapt your work in a future publication, or even share your work on a course website, digital repository, scholarly profile site, or personal website.

Two important points to remember:

  1. Transferring copyright doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can transfer your copyright to your publisher while still holding back rights for yourself and others.
  2. Publishing agreements are negotiable. You can propose changes to the standard publisher agreement, including which rights you want to retain.

Find information about how you can protect your rights as author on our Open Access guide.

License Your Work

If you choose to release your work openly without going through a traditional publisher—such as uploading it to a digital repository; publishing it to a blog or profile site; or posting it on a personal website—you can specify the terms under which others can use your work by applying a license. Some of the most common open licenses are Creative Commons licenses.

Additional Resources

Do You Own the Copyright to Your Work?

According to WPI's Intellectual Property Policy, you retain the copyright to academic and scholarly works you create. You also retain the copyright to materials you develop for courses and curriculum at WPI, while granting WPI a nonexclusive license to use your work for educational and research purposes in the future. There are some exceptions to the above; consult the policy to learn more.

For questions about the Intellectual Property Policy and how it covers your work, please email or call 508-831-5725.