General Overview/Basics of Copyright FAQ
(Frequently Asked Questions)
- Why learn about copyright?
- What is copyright?
- What five rights are given to copyright owners?
- What materials are protected by copyright?
- What materials aren’t protected by copyright?
- When do copyrighted materials go into the public domain?
- What is fair use?
- How do I determine if something is fair use?
- If my intended use is outside of fair use, what do I do?
You will learn how to:
- protect yourself and your institution from costly lawsuits
- request permission to use others’ copyrighted materials
- grant permission to use your copyrighted materials
- assert copyright
- retain rights to your own work when signing publishing contracts
Copyright is a form of protection granted by laws to authors/creators of original works “fixed in a tangible medium of expression.” Tangible media can include paper, web, film, sound recording, etc. Copyright gives creators a monopoly on rights to use and authorize use of their works for a certain amount of time (currently life of author plus 70 years) in order to encourage the creation of original works.
The right to:
- reproduce the work
- prepare derivative works based on the original
- distribute it or make copies of it
- perform it publicly
- display it publicly
Most materials that are fixed on a medium are automatically copyrighted, even if no copyright statement or symbol is on the work. Some examples of protected materials are: books, articles, websites, scribbles, software, paintings, photographs, graphics, architecture, films, music, and sound recordings.
Materials not protected are:
- works with expired or lost copyright
- works not copyrightable by nature, i.e., ideas, facts, titles, etc. (although arrangement of facts can be)
- works produced by U.S. federal government employees as part of their jobs
- works clearly in the public domain. (See Public Domain Chart)
Remember: Placing a copyrighted work on the Internet does not enter it into the public domain.
See the Public Domain Chart for dates and terms of copyright protection.
Works go in the Public Domain and have no copyright protection:
- if they’re a work of the U.S. federal government,
- when the copyright term expires,
- if the author didn’t meet the statutory requirements in effect at the time the work was published.
While you can use public domain works without seeking permission, you must still cite them appropriately to avoid plagiarism.
Fair use is a specific part of the copyright law based on the belief that the public is entitled to freely uselimited portions of copyrighted works including quotes, “for purposes such as commentary, criticism, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use) and scholarly reports,” U.S. Code Title 17 Chapter 1, Section 107. See also Circular 21, Reproductions of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians.
The good faith application of fair use limits the liability of institutions and individuals. (See Section 504, Chapter 5, Title 17)
Use the four-factor test for fair use, which includes questioning:
- the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
- the nature of the copyrighted work;
- the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the
copyrighted work as a whole; and
- the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
If your intended use is outside of fair use, you must seek permission. Allow ample time for response(s) and have alternative materials ready to use if permission is denied or there is no response.