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Copyright and Fair Use: Copyright in the Courts

A primer on the U.S. Copyright Act and Fair Use.

Warning Concerning Copyright and Other Restrictions

The copyright law of the United States (title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material.

Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or other reproduction. One of these specific conditions is that the photocopy or reproduction is not to be “used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research.” If a user makes a request for, or later uses, a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in excess of “fair use,” that user may be liable for copyright infringement.

The University Library reserves the right to refuse to accept a copying order if, in its judgment, fulfillment of the order would involve violation of copyright law or other restrictions, including, but not limited to privacy rights, donor agreements, and preservation considerations.

Fair Use - Parody: Campbell, aka Skyywalker, et al. v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc.

In August 1964, Roy Orbison released a popular rock song titled, “Oh, Pretty Woman.”  The song brought the artist international fame and became a signature piece in Orbison’s discography.  Five bars of the bassline were so distinct that upon hearing them, the song would easily come to mind. Orbison was awarded two Grammy Award posthumously for later recordings of the song, and “Oh, Pretty Woman” won a place of honor in rock and roll history.


Two decades later, rap group 2 Live Crew gained immense popularity with their controversial and sexually charged lyrics.  The group decided to make a parody of Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman” and asked Acuff-Rose, Inc., the rights holder for Orbison’s song, to license the title for a parody. Acuff-Rose refused to grant the license, but in July 1989, 2 Live Crew released a parody of Orbison’s original titled “Pretty Woman.”


Acuff-Rose sued 2 Live Crew for copyright infringement, and on March 7, 1994, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that the parody was a fair use and distinct from the original work despite its commercial purpose.


Opinion and Commentary


U.S. Supreme Court Opinion, Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music (92-1292), 510 U.S. 569 (1994) (see page 569)


Oh, Pretty Parody: Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., by Lisa Babiskin 

First Sale Doctrine: Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

On March 19, 2013, the United States Supreme Court rendered a decision in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., a case that many scholars and legal experts maintained could undermine the first sale doctrine, Section 109(a), of the U.S. Copyright law.  The court found in favor of Kirtsaeng, the defendant, but a favorable verdict for John Wiley & Sons, Inc. would have made it illegal for libraries to lend books and media purchased overseas and threaten consumers' rights to resell content purchased outside the United States.


Opinion and Commentary

U.S. Supreme Court Blog: Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

U.S. Supreme Court Opinion: Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

We're Not Done With First Sale - Kevin Smith, JD Scholarly Communications Officer, Duke University

Copyright Questions?

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This guide provides a basic primer about copyright and fair use for instruction.  If you have specific questions, please e-mail


These pages were created to provide basic copyright information and are not a substitute for legal advice.