Copyright Law: Making Personal Copies

By Louis Kroeck

Copyright law does not contain any caveat that allows unauthorized parties to make personal copies of copyrighted products. However, under the doctrine of "fair use," individuals may be permitted to make backup copies or archival copies of some materials as long as certain conditions are met. Creating a copy of a copyrighted work for your own ease of use is likely to be considered copyright infringement. But if you are making a copy so that you may use a copyrighted product in case the original is stolen, damaged or destroyed, your conduct may fall within the doctrine of fair use.

Copyright Infringement

Generally, copyright infringement occurs when an unauthorized party reproduces, distributes, performs, publicly displays, or makes a derivative work from a copyrighted work without the permission of the copyright owner. Although the practice commonly occurs, making a copy of a protected work for a friend or for personal ease of access is prohibited and may subject the person making copies to personal liability. Additionally, making a personal copy of copyrighted material so that you can use it in a different manner may be prohibited under copyright law.

Fair Use

Within copyright law there is a doctrine of law known as fair use. Although fair use does not actually give permission to make copies of a work or otherwise use a work without consent, the doctrine provides a defense to copyright infringement. The factors considered when applying the doctrine of fair use include: the purpose and character of the use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount of the work used, and the effect the use has upon the market for the copyrighted work.

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Fair Use for Educators

Educators and librarians have more leeway when making copies of copyrighted material, as educational use is generally considered fair use in most circumstances. Educators generally are not allowed to copy for the purpose of avoiding purchasing books from publishers or to copy the same items from term to term. However, educators are generally permitted to make copies of short articles or pages from a book for the purpose of teaching a class. Additionally, librarians are permitted to make archival copies of certain works in case the original work is damaged, degraded, lost or stolen.


Copyright law permits you to make one copy of your computer software for the purpose of archiving the software in case it is damaged or lost. In order to make a copy, you must own a valid copy of the software and must destroy or transfer your backup copy if you ever decide to sell, transfer or give away your original valid copy. It is not legal to sell a backup copy of software unless you are selling it along with the original.

CDs and DVDs

In addition to making a backup copy of software, it is legal to make a backup copy of a CD or DVD so that you can continue to enjoy the copyrighted material if your original copy fails. It is illegal to make copies of CDs or DVDs if you intend to distribute them to third parties, even by giving them away. Additionally, in some instances it may be unlawful to circumvent anti-piracy technology in order to make a backup copy of a CD or DVD.

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DVD Copyright Rules

United States copyright law is designed to protect the rights of people who create artistic work and those who purchase the right to use such works. DVD copyrights may be registered through the U.S. Copyright Office, but a DVD does not have to be registered to be copyrighted. Copyright protection immediately flows to an item the moment it is created in some tangible form; a DVD is considered a tangible form.

Copyright Laws & Video Games

Video games form the heart of a vital economic industry that relies on the creativity of game designers and innovative companies to develop a consistently fresh supply of new games. Copyright law protects the economic value of video games by insuring that only the creator of the work has the right to duplicate, sell or make related merchandise from the game codes, images, dialogue and characters.

Are Commercials Copyrighted?

With the free accessibility of information and creative content over the Internet, it can be hard to know what is legally available to take and enjoy for free. It can be confusing to realize that something that may be free and legal to enjoy in one context may not be in another context. Most people think of commercials as a free bit of advertising that they are subjected to when they watch television or listen to the radio. Just because a commercial is broadcast for free through certain media does not mean that it is legal for anybody to upload the commercial on YouTube or post it for download on a website. Commercials are copyrighted, and only authorized parties may broadcast, copy or distribute them.


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