Guidelines for Classroom Copying

To safely distribute a copyrighted work in the classroom, or safely place a copyrighted work on reserve in the library, you should simultaneously consult the Fair Use Checklist and the Guidelines for Classroom Copying. Here’s what you need to know. The Guidelines for Classroom Copying, include three very important tests:

  1. Brevity
  2. Spontaneity
  3. Cumulative Effect

Multiple copies (one copy per student) may be made of the following, provided each includes a notice of copyright.




  • A complete poem if less than 250 words.
  • Not more than 250 words of a longer poem.


  • An article, story or essay of less than 2,500 words.
  • An excerpt from any prose work of not more than 1,000 words or 10% of the work, whichever is less.


One chart, graph, diagram, drawing, cartoon, or picture per book or periodical.



  • The copying is at the inspiration of the teacher.
  • The decision to use the work, and the moment of its use for maximum teaching effectiveness, are so close in time that it would be unreasonable to expect a timely reply to a request for permission.


Cumulative Effect

  • The copying is only for one course.
  • Not more than one poem, article, story, essay or two excerpts may be copied from the same author; not more than three from the same collective work or periodical volume.
  • There shall not be more than nine instances of such multiple copying for one course during one class term.



Not withstanding the above, the following shall be prohibited:

  1. Copying shall not be used to create or to replace or substitute for anthologies, compilations, or collective works.
  2. There shall be no copying of or from works intended to be "consumable." Examples: workbooks, test booklets, answer sheets.
  3. Copying shall not:
    • substitute for the purchase of books, publishers' reprints, or periodicals.
    • be repeated with respect to the same item by the same teacher from term to term.

Although the primary motivation behind making classroom copies is to educate, it is also recognized that “the most obvious type of copyright infringement occurs when an entire book, story or article is copied verbatim without permission.” In addition, giving credit to the author does not make the use fair, but should always be provided. -The Copyright Handbook, NOLO, 2002.

The above summary is intended to assist teachers in staying within the boundaries of Fair Use. An unedited version of the guidelines can be found in Circular 21, Reproduction of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians, published by the United States Copyright Office, page 8.