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Rights, Permissions and Reproductions Policies

Copyright statement

The Northwestern University Library provides access to its holdings for educational, personal and non-commercial use, provided that ownership of the materials is properly cited. Written permission of the copyright holders and/or other rights holders is required for publication, distribution, reproduction or other use of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use. Publication includes, but is not limited to, print, film, slide presentation, video, television and electronic transmission. Transmitting an image or file on the Internet is equivalent to reproducing and distributing that image in print.

Materials held by Northwestern University Library may be protected by U.S. Copyright Law and/or by the copyright laws of other countries. Copyright law protects unpublished as well as published materials. For web sites and digital files originated in the library we retain all rights, including copyright, in all data, images and text. If you wish to use either published or unpublished materials from our collections in a publication, you must determine whether the work has passed into the public domain and is no longer under copyright protection, or find the copyright holder and get permission to reproduce the material.


Users of materials held by the Northwestern University Library are responsible for securing permission from copyright owners and payment of such additional fees as the owners may require if the Library does not hold copyright or if the material is not in the public domain. Users assume all responsibility for questions of copyright or other rights that may arise in copying and in the use made of the copy.

Permission to use or reproduce Northwestern University Library materials

Other than use for personal, educational or non-commercial purposes, each collection or type of material in the Northwestern University Library may have different copyright or other reproduction restrictions placed on it. If you would like to use or reproduce materials from our collections, please contact us, specifying what materials you are interested in, and we will tell you of any restrictions on a case-by-case basis.

Reproductions of Northwestern University Library materials

The requester must contact appropriate departments (see contact list below). Permission is granted to the requesting party for one-time use only, for the purposes stipulated in the request. Requests to publish must indicate the specific use intended. The requester is responsible for obtaining any required permission from the creator of the work or from the creator's heirs or executors.

Reproductions may not be reused for any other purpose, or published in any other format (including but not limited to: print, film, slide presentation, video, television and electronic transmission); nor may it be transferred to another party without permission from Northwestern University Library.

The user assumes all responsibility for infringement of copyright or other rights and agrees that Northwestern University Library is free from liability for any infringement of use by the requester. Northwestern University Library reserves the right to refuse permission and reproductions to anyone who does not agree to these conditions.

Please see the relevant department's web pages for contact information, holdings, fees, request forms, conditions for use and citation and credit formats.

Credit and citation

The standard credit line for materials from the Northwestern University Library is as follows: "Courtesy Northwestern University Library". For preferred citation, see the "Credit and Citation" section on the relevant department's Rights and Permissions page.

Contact information

Information regarding the cost of reproductions in various formats can be found on the website of the individual departments. Contact appropriate departments and inquire them for any other specific information about reproduction formats, terms, or fees. 

For general information, contact Liz Hamilton, Intellectual Property Specialist.

Course Reserve and Copyright

The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other productions of copyrighted material. Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or reproduction.

One specified condition is that the photocopy or reproduction is not to be used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research. If electronic transmission of reserve material is used for purposes in excess of what constitutes "fair use," that user may be liable for copyright infringement.

Basics for educational use of copyrighted materials

Copyright as a legal concept in the United States has its roots in the United States Constitution in Article 1 Section 8, Clause 8: " To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries."

Title 17 of the United States Code provides the laws that further define copyright.

Title 17 grants the owners of copyright exclusive rights to reproduce, perform, distribute and license their works for a limited time. Current law requires no official copyright registration, defining as copyrighted from 1989 on "any original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device."

Fair Use and other exceptions to the copyright laws

Some documents are not copyrighted at all. A work may have passed into the public domain. Or it may be a government document, a collection of facts or freeware. These may all be used without copyright permission.

The majority of acceptable free use of copyrighted materials for educational purposes exists in limitations to the law, found in Title 17, Chapter 1, Sections 107 and 108. Generally, the most useful limitation of copyright for disseminating materials for pedagogical use falls under the Fair Use Doctrine.

It is important to note that the Fair Use Doctrine provides no hard-and-fast rules to gauge fair use. Case law has done little to clarify fair use. And the Internet has added chaotic elements to an already ambiguous set of standards.

All four factors in the Fair Use Doctrine must be taken into consideration on a case-by-case basis to decide if a work falls within fair use.

Section 107 sets out four factors that must be used to ascertain fair use. 

  1. The purpose or character of the use
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work being used
  3. The amount and substantiality of the work being used
  4. The effect of the use on the market for or value of the original


Licensing has serious implications for the concept of fair use. The model of licensing electronic information has become the industry standard. The majority of electronic information available through libraries is leased rather than owned. In this environment license agreements take on profound implications as contracts are legally binding, regardless of where they fall in our interpretations of fair use.

Last Review: 2020