Skip to Main Content

Copyright at American University

This guide is to provide a basic understanding of copyright laws including important exemptions that apply to the American University community.

Contact Information

Print Reserves:


The Reserves Desk is located on the Lower Level of Bender Library.


Video Reserves:

Video reserves are managed by Media Services 202-885-3250

Media Services is also located on the Lower Level of Bender Library.

See Teaching with Video for information about faculty video reserves and other uses of video in the classroom affected by copyright laws.


Cited from the Reserves Copyright Policy:

  • The University complies with the Copyright Act of 1976 and all subsequent amendments.
  • Electronic reserves service is an extension of traditional print-based library services and will be provided in a manner that respects Fair Use rights, the rights of copyright holders, and current copyright law.

  • All materials will be placed on reserve at the request of faculty only for the noncommercial, educational use of students.

  • All materials placed on reserve will be reproduced from copies lawfully obtained by either the requesting faculty member or the Library.

  • Only limited amounts of a copyright-protected work may be reproduced as e-reserves (see Guidelines section below).

  • All e-reserve files produced by Course Reserves staff will include a notice of copyright on the first page, indicating that they may be subject to copyright restrictions.

  • Faculty are strongly encouraged to evaluate their materials for fair use before submitting course reserves requests in order to prevent delays in processing.

  • Authentication will be required for access to e-reserve files. Readings will be accessible only by course number, instructor name, and course name.

  • Links to licensed full-text electronic resources will be used in lieu of reproducing copyright-protected material whenever possible.

Guidelines for Course Reserves

Sec. 107 - Limitations on Exclusive Rights: Fair Use

The fair use provision of U.S. Code: Title 17, Section 107 (Limitations on Exclusive Rights: Fair Use) allows reproduction and other uses of copyrighted works under certain conditions for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and 
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
  5. The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

Fair Use is not a blanket exemption to copyright law. The four factor fair use analysis is a subjective one. There is not one determinative factor; rather, each factor is weighed and balanced. Each use must be judged on a case by case basis.

However, the University Library has developed these course reserve guidelines for the use of copyrighted materials that is consistent with U.S. Code: Title 17, Section 107 (Limitations on Exclusive Rights: Fair Use). The purpose of the guidelines is not to limit fair use. Uses that exceed these guidelines may or may not be fair use.  Generally, any reproduction of copyrighted material that is placed on reserve, without the copyright owner's permission will conform to the following guidelines.

  • Materials placed on reserve will be made available for students enrolled in that specific course and faculty only while the requesting instructor is actually teaching the course, and will be removed after the course is no longer in session.

  • Book selections placed on electronic reserve from works under copyright will not exceed more than 1 chapter from a single work with 10 or more chapters or 10% from a work with 10 chapters or fewer. If short excerpts are taken from several chapters, the amount should be equivalent to the average chapter length of a book with 10 or more chapters or 10% from a work with 10 chapters or less.

  • No more than two articles per issue of a periodical will be placed on electronic reserve.  If an instructor needs more than this limit, the University Library will investigate options including but not limited to obtaining the required permissions and/or licenses or assisting faculty in identifying alternative resources.

  • The above limitations are cumulative over the course of the semester.

  • E-reserves that are reactivated in subsequent semesters for the same course/instructor may require copyright permission. Copyright permission will be sought by Course Reserves staff though the Copyright Clearance Center. Materials for which copyright permission is unavailable may be removed from reserve.

  • Please remind students enrolled in course about the limitations of copyright, and they must not further distribute copies to others.

Reserves Information Page on AU Library Website