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The Research Process: Step-by-Step

This guide walks you through the steps of the research process

Copyright Basics

The United States copyright laws are designed to prevent people from copying and distributing other people's work without permission. This includes both paper copies (i.e., photocopies, typewritten copies, etc.) and electronic copies (scanned or uploaded).

In an academic setting there is a fair use exception to the permission requirement, but it is only available if you meet the guidelines. If you do not meet the guidelines, permission must be sought.

Fair Use

Fair Use is a doctrine of the United States copyright law that allows limited use of copyrighted works without seeking permission typically for the purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. In determining whether or not use of a copyrighted work is fair the following factors should be considered:

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 The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

Photocopying Guidelines

These guidelines provide a minimum standard of educational fair use. The guidelines represent three standards: brevity, spontaneity, and cumulative effect.

I. Single Copy
A single copy of the following may be made for an individual's own scholarly research or in preparation for a class:

  • a chapter from a book;
  • an article from a periodical or newspaper;
  • a short essay, story, or poem;
  • a chart, graph, diagram, drawing, cartoon or picture from a book, periodical, or newspaper.

II. Multiple Copies for Classroom Use
Multiple copies may be made for classroom use as long as the copies do not exceed more than one copy per person, each copy includes a notice of copyright (e.g., Notice: This material may be protected by copyright law (Title 17 U.S. Code).), and the copying meets the definitions of brevity, spontaneity and cumulative effect as listed below.


  • Poetry: a complete poem of less than 250 words or from a longer poem, an excerpt of not more than 250 words.
  • Prose: a complete article, story or essay of less than 2,500 words or an excerpt from a prose work of not more than 1,000 words or 10 percent of the work (whichever is less).
  • Illustration: one chart, graph, diagram, drawing, cartoon or picture per book or per periodical issue.


  • The copying is of the inspiration of the individual instructor, and the decision to copy the work and the time of its use for teaching are so close in time that it would be unreasonable to expect a timely reply to a request for copyright permission.

Cumulative Effect

  • The copying is for only one course in the school in which the copies are made.
  • Only one short poem, article, or essay or two excerpts may be copied from the same author. No more than three from the same collective work or periodical volume during one class term.
  • There should not be more than nine instances of such multiple copying for one course during one class term.

Note: Limitations stated above do not apply to current news periodicals, newspapers, and current news sections of other periodicals.

III. Other Restrictions

  • Copying should not be for the purpose of creating or substituting collective works or anthologies. For example, if an instructor cannot find a suitable textbook to serve course objectives, he/she cannot place a variety of articles on Library Reserve unless permission is obtained for the articles. Such action constitutes the creation of an anthology.
  • Copying of "consumable" works is prohibited (i.e. workbooks, exercises, standardized tests, answer sheets, etc.).
  • Copying should not be for the purpose of substituting the purchase of books or periodicals. For example, an instructor may find several chapters of a textbook extremely useful, but the cost of the text is too exuberant for his/her students. Making copies of those chapters to distribute or place on reserve for his/her students violates fair use because such actions would effect the market for the text.
  • Copying should not be directed by a department chair, dean or other higher authority. Copying must be the inspiration of the individual instructor.
  • Copying should not reoccur with regard to the same material by the same teacher from term to term.
  • Students should not be charged for the copies.

IV. Additional Guidelines

  • Copied material MAY NOT be posted on a website or in a public folder. Because the University needs to keep track of the repeated uses of the same material and because there are issues with restricting access to just the students in a particular class, at this time such "public" postings are prohibited. However, providing links to the material from the website or the public folder is permissible.
  • A reasonable number of copies for Library Reserves in most instances will be no more than two, but factors such as the length or difficulty of the assignment, the number of enrolled students, and the length of time allowed for completion of the assignment may permit more than two in unusual circumstances.

Getting Permission

If you cannot meet the photocopying guidelines, then you must get permission to copy and distribute the work. Requests should be sent on letterhead, together with a self-addressed return envelope, to the Permissions department of the publisher or proprietor in question. Include in the request:

  • A complete description of the material to be used including author, title, editor, compiler, translator, and edition.
  • The exact portion of the material, pages, and a photocopy if possible
  • A description of how it will be used, including how many times, the number of people it will be distributed to, under what conditions (i.e. on or off campus, online course...)
  • How the material will be reproduced (photocopy, off-set, digitized, etc.)
  • A place for the recipient to sign to indicate that permission has been granted.

The Copyright Clearance Center (CCC) also has the right to grant permission and collect fees for photocopying rights for certain publications. It is often the fastest and most efficient way to obtain permissions.

Contact a Campus:

478-471-2709 for the Macon campus library | 478-934-3179 for the Roberts Memorial Library at the Cochran campus | 478-275-6772 for the Dublin campus library

478-374-6833 for the Eastman campus library | 478-929-6804 for the Warner Robins campus library | On the Go? Text-A-Librarian: 478-285-4898

Middle Georgia State University Library

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