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This is an attempt to bring together information relating to copyright. This is not a comprehensive listing and is supplied for informational purposes only.
- What is copyright law?
- What copyright protects
- What copyright does not protect
- Why copyright compliance is necessary?
- Fair use
- Fair use in an educational setting
- How to get permission
Campus copyright rights and responsibilities: a basic guide to policy considerations Prepared by the Association of American Publishers, the Association of American Universities, and the Association of Research Libraries
Campus guide to copyright clearance for Academic Institutions is a valuable resource from the Copyright Clearance Center.
U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17 U.S. Code) is a federal law, that is intended to promote the arts and the sciences. It does this by providing authors of original literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works the ability to control how their work is used by others. The copyright law gives the author exclusive right to :
- Copy their works
- Prepare derivatives or revisions of their works
- Distribute or publish their works
- And Perform or display their works in public.
The copyright protection is granted for the lifetime of the creator plus 70 years.
The author may transfer ownership of copyright to others such as a publisher and in this case the publisher has the exclusive rights to copy, publish and distribute etc.
Copyright protects any work that is expressed in a tangible medium, is original, and has the least bit of creativity.
Copyright law (US Code 17 Section 102a) lists the following types of work:
- Literary works (such as poems, fiction and nonfiction books)
- Music including the lyrics
- Dramatic works including the soundtrack or music (includes plays and operas)
- Pantomimes and choreography
- Pictorial, graphic and sculptural works
- Movies and audiovisual recordings
- Sound recordings
Copyright law (US Code 17 Section 102b) does not protect the following:
- Items not creative enough
- Ideas / Expressions
- Works in the public domain
- Works that qualify under fair use
Items not creative enough
Copyright act does not protect any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in an original work.
Ideas / Expressions
Copyright law does not protect ideas and facts themselves. Ideas are works that have not been fixed to a tangible medium and are therefore not protected.
Works in the Public Domain
Works in the public domain are not protected and therefore can be used without obtaining permission. Works in the public domain include:
- Works whose copyright has expired
- All published works created before 1923
- All unpublished works created before 1883
- Works published by the federal government
A chart to identify if a work is in the public domain is available from Cornell University.
A collection of public domain resources is available from Washington State University
Works that qualify under fair use
Fair use provides an exception to the exclusive rights of the copyright owner and works covered by fair use may be copied without the permission of the copyright owner.
The Copyright law grants the owner of the copyright exclusive rights to copy, modify, publish etc. As a consequence, if the use of a copyrighted work involves any of the activities for which the owner of the copyright has exclusive rights, it is necessary to obtain permission prior to such use.
Using a copyrighted work without permission would be an infringement of the copyright law and the copyright holder could file a lawsuit. The law provides for the copyright holder to be compensated substantially for damages and the legal costs. . If the lawsuit is successful the penalties could range from a fine of $200 - $100,000, court costs and attorney's fees.
The fair use provision of the law (US Code Section 107: Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use) considers the use of a copyrighted work for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research as fair use and not infringing copyright. In other words, copyright items that come under the fair use provision may be used without permission.
Four criteria commonly used to determine fair use are:
- Purpose and character of the use
- Nature of the copyrighted work
- Amount and substantiality of the material used
- Effect of the use on the potential market for the work
All four criteria must be considered before declaring that fair use applies. Educational purpose alone is not sufficient to qualify for fair use
Purpose and character of the use
Is the use for commercial purposes or nonprofit educational purposes? How will the material be used and by whom? Is the use for purpose of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship or research? Works used for educational, nonprofit or personal purposes generally are covered by fair use. Works for commercial purpose do not qualify for fair use.
Nature of the copyrighted work
How creative is the work? The more creative the work the more likelihood that this factor weighs against fair use. A compilation of facts would be considered less creative than a work of fiction..
Amount and substantiality of the material used
How much of the work will be used? The quantity (the amount copied) as well as the quality (the importance of the portion copied) must be considered. The likelihood of fair use is greater if the material used is a small portion of the total work and does not contain a substantial amount of the essence or principle elements of the work.
Effect of the use on the potential market for the work.
Will the use reduce sales and thus result in potential loss for the copyright owner.
Deciding on whether fair use applies has to be done on a case by case basis. The general recommendation is that when the four criteria to judge whether fair use applies, if the conclusion is not predominantly in favor of fair use and there is a sense of doubt, it is a good idea to request permission.
The application of copyright law to the different types of material is a complicated task. Fortunately, there are some guidelines developed by groups such as the American Publishers Association, Conference on fair use (CONFU) etc. A summary of the guidelines is available.
- Distance Learning
- Based on Educational Fair Use Guidelines For Distance Learning from CONFU
- TEACH ACT Toolkit from North carolina State University
The Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization Act of 2001, also known as the TEACH Act, allows not-for-profit institutions of higher learning to transmit "limited and reasonable" portions of videos and other AV works under the supervision of a college instructor over a secure system accessible by enrolled students only.
- Library Reproduction Rights
When it is not clear if the use of a work would be considered fair use, it is best to obtain permission from the copyright holder.
Sample Letter : Requesting permission from copyright holder
Certain permissions are granted free of charge. They are:
- Requests for quotations from scholarly books where the extent of use may be greater than allowed by fair use.
- Transcripts for the blind.
- Requests for reproduction of portion of material to be used one time, in an experimental situation, or in a curricular development program
- Requests for selections of a book or its illustrations for reviews or articles concerning a book.
Copyright Clearance Center (CCC)
CCC is a one-stop-shopping place for permission to copy text and print media. CCC has permission rights to over 1.75 million titles from 9,800 publishers. Colleges can request permission to copy materials either as photocopies or as electronic course packs, electronic reserves or distance learning. There is a charge associated with this service.
To use the services of CCC an account and credit line must be established. While seeking permission information such as title, author, date, edition, the portion of the work to be copied, and the "standard number" such as ISBN, ISSN or LCCN.
From Author or Publisher
Getting permission from the author is cheap but can prove difficult. It is not easy to get the address of the author. Most authors transfer their copyright to the publisher. In such a case permission must be sought from the publisher. It is easier to find the address of a publisher and hence request permission.
For Photographs or Images
Photographs are protected by copyright. Images and photos are considered to be entire works and most often will not be covered by fair use. Getting permission for photos and images is very difficult because information on the copyright holder is seldom available. It is easier to make your own pictures or locate images or photos that may be copied for free or for a fee. For example:
- Images at altavista.com
- Kodak picture Gallery
- Artists Rights Foundation
- Library of Congress American Memory Project
To play music in public
Anyone playing live or recorded music in public i.e. a place where a large group of people may be listening should get permission. The artist or publisher has the right to control only public performances. Permission is not needed for private performances.
Permission for live performances can be obtained from:
3. Society for European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC)
Telephone: (800) 826-9996 in Nashville
(212) 586-3450 in New York
4. Kohn on Music Licensing - http://www.kohnmusic.com
5. All music guide - http://musicguide.org
Permission for playing music sound recordings:
Contact Harry Fox Agency for a license for sound recording rights.
This is not a legal document and is provided for informational use only.