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Faculty Resources at Thurgood Marshall Library: Copyright

This guide is intended to assist faculty and staff in using the library's resources and services.

What You Need to Know about Copyright

Additions to copyright law in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the Copyright Term Extension Act have further complicated an already complex issue. Information on this page is provided to help students and faculty determine whether or not their use of copyrighted materials falls under the “fair use” provisions. This page is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal opinion. Links to additional resources appear throughout.

Copyright exists to protect the rights of authors, artists, composers, software developers, and other creators of original works. It grants the copyright owner exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, display, or perform the work or produce other works derived from the original. The copyright owner is the only one who can grant permission to others to do the same.

Copyright may be applied to any work of authorship, i.e. literary, musical, visual, dramatic, and other intellectual works regardless of format. Although many copyrighted works do, a work does not have to include a copyright statement to be eligible for copyright protection. Not everything can be copyrighted. Facts are not eligible for copyright protection, nor are works produced by the federal government. It is usually best to err on the side of caution and assume a work is copyrighted.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which was enacted in 1998, is targeted at the reproduction and distribution of copyrighted works in the new digital age. The law is very specific about what is and is not allowed, particularly regarding sharing of audio and video files over the Internet. Furthermore, there are clear expectations about what an online service provider must do to ensure that users of the service adhere to the law. 

There are times when a copyrighted work may be used for personal or educational purposes without obtaining permission. There are, however, limits to what is considered "fair use." These limits apply to materials used in the classroom as well as library reserves and items posted on Blackboard. Being able to use material without permission does not mean being able to use it without attribution. Proper citations should be used when appropriate.

Four factors are considered when determining 'fair use.' Those factors are:

1. Purpose and character of the use
2. Nature of the copyrighted work
3. How much of or the substantiality of the work used
4. Effect of the use on the market value of the work

For more information see the resource links below:

Copyright protection does not last forever. Once copyright expires, a work may be used without permission. Congress has repeatedly, however, lengthened the period for which a work is eligible for copyright protection. The most recent legislation was the Copyright Term Extension Act, also known as the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act. This bill passed in 1998 and extended the copyright term for most protected works to the life of the author plus 70 years. Be warned that the passing of an original edition of a work into the public domain does not mean that later editions or translations are not protected.

What is a public performance?

"A public performance is one that occurs either in a public place or any place where people gather (other than a small circle of a family or its social acquaintances). A public performance is also one that is transmitted to the public; for example, radio or television broadcasts, music-on-hold, cable television, and by the internet. Generally, those who publicly perform music obtain permission from the owner of the music or his representative. However, there are a few limited exceptions, (called "exemptions") to this rule. Permission is not required for music played or sung as part of a worship service unless that service is transmitted beyond where it takes place (for example, a radio or television broadcast). Performances as part of face to face teaching activity at a non-profit educational institutions are also exempt."

Definition from the FAQ section on the website of the American Society of Composers and Publishers (ASCAP). 

Most video recordings, audio recordings, and dramatic works and many musical works are intended for personal use. Performance rights must be obtained before these works can be performed in public for larger groups.

If your use of copyrighted works goes beyond the limits of fair use, you need to request permission from the copyright owner. The Copyright Clearance Center can obtain permission on your behalf for a fee. Keep in mind that the copyright owner is not always the author. In many instances, the author's employer or scholarly journal publisher actually owns the copyright.

Most image sources will include information about the copyright status.  Many sources will allow you to reproduce images for teaching or other non-commercial uses.  Always remember to attribute the source of the image when incorporating it into your own presentations.

Some image search engines allow you to limit your search to images licensed with Creative Commons licenses that may allow re-use.  Often this is on the 'Advanced Search' screen.  See the specific license to see if you can modify the image, use it for commercial purposes, or need to make attribution to the creator. For more information about the various types of Creative Commons license see the link below: