Fair Use for software

These guidelines are based on the 1998 Conference on Fair Use report to Congress.

The guidelines have not been passed into law and represent the suggested conditions under which educators can use copyright-protected materials without getting consent from the author or creator of the work.

Anyone who purchases a computer program has a right to load it onto a single computer and make a copy for archival purposes. Its license agreement may give the user additional rights, therefore, it should be carefully read.

Because the copyright symbol and/or statement are not required by law as a condition of protection, you can't assume its absence implies permission to copy the software. Some types have less stringent rules on copying, including shareware, freeware and public domain software.


This is try-before-you-buy software and may be copied from a bulletin board or another user's disk. Each program comes with a license agreement that specifies how long it may be retained before purchased. Shareware is registered with the author or publisher by sending a fee that varies according to licensing agreement. Registering the program ensures the user continued use of the program and technical support, printed documentation, bug fixes and updates.


Freeware is copyrighted, but can be freely copied and distributed. The copyright protection usually restricts users from selling or distributing the software for profit, altering or reverse-engineering the program, or claiming the program as their own. You do not have to register freeware.

 Shareware, free ware and public domain software have less stringent rules on copying.

Public domain

Public domain software may or may not be copyrighted, and it may or may not have a listed author. Public domain means the software costs nothing to keep and use and that it is freely distributed to the public. The primary difference between public domain software and freeware is there usually is no way to contact the author, and most likely, there will be no support if there's a problem.

Because it is often difficult to determine if software is in the public domain or copyrighted, and if copyrighted, whether it is shareware or freeware, the following suggestions may help users stay within the copyright law.

  • Assume all software is copyrighted even if it does not bear a copyright symbol. The only source for permission to copy copyrighted software is a specific grant of that right in a license agreement or the express or implied (as in freeware) permission of the copyright holder.
  • Retain packaging materials that contain licensing agreement provisions between the user and copyright holder. Refer to these materials for information about what copying is permissible. Note that most license agreements prohibit renting, leasing or lending original copies of the software.

Fair Use for faculty
Fair Use for nonfaculty
Fair Use for Copy Centers and printed materials
Fair Use for electronic reserves
Fair Use for video and broadcast
Fair Use for digital media and music materials
Training opportunities
Additional resources



For more information, contact your college/unit copyright compliance officer:

Mary Carr, SCC, 509.533.7045 
Mary Ann Lund Goodwin, SFCC, 533.3820 
Anne Tucker, District Administration, 509.434.5109 
Rebecca Rhodes, IEL, 509.279.6050