Frequently Asked Questions
- What is copyright? **
- What is protected by copyright? **
- What isn't protected by copyright? **
- How do works acquire copyright? **
- How long does copyright last? **
- Who is the owner of a copyrighted work? **
- How do I register my copyright? **
- How do I know if the work I want to use is copyrighted? **
- What is fair use? **
- What if my use DOES NOT qualify as fair use? ***
Teaching with Copyright
- What is the TEACH Act? ***
- How do I know if I am allowed to use a work in my classroom? ***
- Can I copy a printed journal article for my students? ***
- Can I download a digital copy of an article and post it to my Blackboard course page? ***
- Can I download a PDF of an article that is licensed by the library and post it to my class web site? ***
- If an article is freely available online, is it protected by copyright? ***
- Can I use articles I'm providing to students this semester for classes in upcoming semesters?
- Can I copy chapters from a textbook and distribute them to my students? ***
- Can I include photographs or music in a presentation for my class? ***
- Can I make changes to a photograph or music file and use it in a class presentation? ***
- Can I show a video in my class without permission from the copyright owner? ***
- Can I copy clips or short portions of DVD movies to make compilations for classroom use? ***
- What are electronic reserves and how does copyright apply? ***
- What about coursepacks and copyright? ***
- Can I make a copy of a journal article for my research or to prepare for class? ***
- Can I quote lines from a book, poem, or song in a published work of my own? ***
- If I'm copying something for an educational purpose, isn't that fair use? ***
- How do I know if I am allowed to post a work to Blackboard? **
- How do I know if I am allowed to use a work in a distance learning class? **
- What if I got the work from a website? **
- What if I created the work? **
- What if a student created the work? **
- What if the work was published outside the US? **
- What does it mean if a work is Creative Commons licensed? **
- What can I do if the use I want to make is not a fair use? **
- Does “fair use” mean that I may copy anything for electronic reserves, and post it to Blackboard, provided I only use it for students in my classroom?
- What can I put on Course Reserve in the Libraries?
- May I place copyrighted works on Blackboard, and make them available to persons other than those enrolled in my class?
- May I post, or ask the library to post, a link to an article that is contained in a library owned database?
1. What is copyright? **
Copyright is a form of legal protection that allows authors, photographers, composers, and other creators to control some reproduction and distribution of their work.
There are several different rights that come along with copyright. In general, copyright holders have the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to do the following:
- Reproduce the work in whole or in part
- Prepare derivative works, such as translations, dramatizations, and musical arrangements
- Distribute copies of the work by sale, gift, rental, or loan
- Publicly perform the work
- Publicly display the work
These rights have exceptions and limitations, including the "fair use" provisions, which allows certain uses without permission of the copyright holder.
2. What is protected by copyright? **
Copyright protects literature, music, painting, photography, dance, and other forms of creative expression. In order to be protected by copyright, a work must be:
- Original: A work must be created independently and not copied.
- Creative: There must be some minimal degree of creativity involved in making the work.
- A work of authorship: This includes literary, musical, dramatic, choreographic, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, audiovisual, and architectural works.
- Fixed: The work must be "fixed in a tangible medium of expression" — written on a piece of paper, saved on a computer hard drive, or recorded on an audio or video tape.
3. What isn't protected by copyright? **
There are many things that are not protected by copyright, including:
- Facts and ideas
- Processes, methods, systems, and procedures
- All works prepared by the United States Government
- Constitutions and laws of State governments
- Materials that have passed into the public domain
4. How do works acquire copyright? **
Copyright occurs automatically at the creation of a new work. The moment the work is fixed in a tangible medium of expression, it is copyrighted. Formal procedures such as copyright notice, registration, or publication are not required to obtain copyright.
This means that almost everything is copyrighted. This includes not just published material, such as books and articles, but also your emails and letters, your assignments, your drafts, and your snapshots.
Works published after 3/1/89 do not have to display a copyright notice to receive copyright protection. However, if you are making your work publicly available, it's a very good idea to include a copyright notice, along with your contact information, so that people who want to re-use your work will be able to get in touch with you. A good copyright notice might look something like "© 2007 C. Holder. For permissions and questions contact firstname.lastname@example.org."
5. How long does copyright last? **
For works created on or after 1/1/78, copyright lasts from the moment a work is created until 70 years after the death of the author, except for works produced by a company/employer in which case the copyright lasts 95 years from the date of publication. The length of copyright protection is different for works created before 1/1/78.
6. Who is the owner of a copyrighted work? **
The creator is usually the initial copyright holder. If two or more people jointly create a work, they are joint holders of the copyright, with equal rights. Note that this may differ from common academic conduct and expectations, where the lead author may be considered more important than the others.
If a work is created as a part of a person's employment, that work is a "work made for hire" and the copyright belongs to the employer, unless the employer explicitly grants rights to the employee in a signed agreement.
In the case of work by independent contractors or freelancers, the copyright belongs to the contractor or freelancer unless otherwise negotiated beforehand, and agreed to in writing.
It is possible to transfer a copyright; this frequently happens as a part of publishing agreements. In many cases, the publisher holds the copyright to a work, and not the author. A valid copyright transfer requires a signed written agreement.
7. How do I register my copyright? **
You do not have to register your work to receive and retain copyright protection, but if you plan to publish, post, or otherwise distribute your work, it may be a good idea to do so since registration confers a number of legal benefits. You may register a work at any time while it is still in copyright. Registering is not difficult - for instructions and forms, visit the United States Copyright Office website. For registration fees, please visit the U.S. Copyright Office fees page.
8. How do I know if the work I want to use is copyrighted? **
For works created after 1/1/78, copyright protection arises automatically the moment an original work is "fixed in a tangible medium of expression," in other words, the moment that text is written down or typed, or the moment a song is recorded.
If created after 1/1/78, a work does not need to be registered, published, or have a copyright notice on it to be protected by copyright. For works created in the U.S., copyright lasts from the moment a work is created until 70 years after the death of the author, except for works produced by a company/employer in which case the copyright lasts 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter. Because copyright protection happens so easily, and lasts so long, you should assume that any work you want to use is copyrighted, unless it is very old or produced by the U.S. government.
Copyright has expired for works published in the United States before 1923, which means they are in the public domain. You are free to use or reproduce works in the public domain however you want. In addition, some works published between 1923 and 1963 may also be in the public domain, but this can only be determined on a case-by-case basis. All works created after 1963 are under copyright, except for work produced by the U.S. government, and state constitutions and laws. If you are trying to determine whether a work published during that time period is still under copyright, the Stanford Copyright Renewal Database is a good place to start.
9. What is fair use? **
Fair use allows limited use of copyrighted material without permission from the copyright holder for purposes such as criticism, parody, news reporting, research and scholarship, and teaching. There are four factors to consider when determining whether your use is a fair one. You must consider all the factors below, even though all the factors do not have to be in favor of a use to make it a fair one.
The four fair use factors are as follows:
- The purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
- The nature of the copyrighted work, such as whether the work is fiction or non-fiction, published or unpublished;
- The amount of the work used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole, such as using a poem in its entirety, or using one chapter from a long book;
- The effect of the use upon the potential market for the copyrighted work.
For assistance in analyzing these factors for individual cases, see Fair Use Checklist.
Just because your use is for non-profit educational purposes does not automatically give you permission to copy and distribute other people's work. While many educational uses may be fair, you will probably need to evaluate your use each time you are reproducing copyrighted material — to show in your class, to hand out copies, to include in your writing.
10. What if my use DOES NOT qualify as fair use? ***
If your four-factor fair use analysis does not lead to a favorable fair use conclusion, you might want to explore these options:
- Determine if the item you want to use is licensed by the University of Louisville Libraries. If so, you may be able to use it for certain educational purposes.
- Seek permission to use the material from the copyright owner. Contact the Copyright Permission Services for assistance.
- Revise your proposed use to mitigate those circumstances weighing against fair use.
Teaching with Copyright
11. What is the TEACH Act? ***
The TEACH Act allows instructors to perform or display copyrighted works in distance education environments. The Act has many potential advantages for the use of digital technology in teaching. In order to take advantage of these benefits, however, instructors, technologists, and institutions must meet many detailed requirements.
12. How do I know if I am allowed to use a work in my classroom? **
The rules governing use of materials in a face to face classroom are broader than fair use, and those rules give you more leeway as far as what you are allowed to copy, display, and distribute in your classes. You may display or perform a work in your class without obtaining permission or doing a fair use evaluation when your use meets all three of these criteria:
The use is:
- for instructional purposes
- in face-to-face teaching
- at a nonprofit educational institution.
Uses you are allowed to make include:
- showing all or part of a movie or television show
- including pictures, images, graphs, and charts in your lecture slides
- playing music
13. Can I copy a printed journal article for my students? ***
Yes, distribution of multiple copies of an article for classroom use can be a fair use. Allowance of this copying is expressed in the statute, but may be limited in quantity and amount. Instructors should conduct a four-factor fair use analysis, and refer to the "Classroom Guidelines" when considering distributing copies to a class.
14. Can I download a digital copy of an article and post it to my Blackboard course page? ***
Fair use applies to the use of digital as well as print versions of copyrighted works. For digital articles, however, you will need to restrict access to only those students enrolled in the course and limit duration of an article's availability. Instructors should conduct a four-factor fair use analysis, and refer to the "Classroom Guidelines" when considering posting digital copies of articles to a course page.
15. Can I download a PDF of an article that is licensed by the library and post it to my class web site? ***
Any use of copyrighted works made available by a license agreement through University Libraries must first comply with the terms of that license. These agreements often do not allow copying PDF files and reposting them on another website or Blackboard site. Frequently, however, you can make articles available through a direct link. To learn how best to link from your web page to an article in the Library, see Linking Rather than Copying.
16. If an article is freely available online, is it protected by copyright? ***
Most likely. Copyright protection is automatically assigned to all new works as soon as they are fixed in a tangible medium. Materials presented online may be protected by copyright even if they are freely and openly available and do not display a copyright statement or symbol notice ("©").
17. Can I use articles I'm providing to students this semester for classes in upcoming semesters? Don't the "Classroom Guidelines" prohibit repeated use of copyrighted works for more than one semester? ***
Repeated use of the same articles may be an infringement, and is not permitted by the Guidelines. While the Guidelines define minimum standards for educational fair use, caution should be exercised in exceeding copying permitted under the Guidelines.
18. Can I copy chapters from a textbook and distribute them to my students? ***
Generally, this is NOT a fair use. The market for the textbook is directly affected by this activity. Students who would otherwise be expected to purchase the book no longer need to and the publisher is deprived of sales in their primary market.
19. Can I include photographs or music in a presentation for my class? ***
Yes, displaying or performing copyrighted photographs and music for classroom purposes is allowed under section 110 of U.S. Copyright Law.
20. Can I make changes to a photograph or music file and use it in a class presentation? ***
Yes, changes made to enhance your instructional purpose, e.g. commentary, criticism, even parody, are activities allowed under the fair use provision.
21. Can I show a video in my class without permission from the copyright owner? ***
Yes. Section 110 of U.S. Copyright Law permits showing a lawfully acquired video in the classroom for instructional purposes.
22. Can I copy clips or short portions of DVD movies to make compilations for classroom use? ***
On November 22, 2006 the U.S. Copyright Office issued an exemption from the anti-circumvention provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The exemption allows copying DVDs used by film and media studies faculty. The exemption is temporary and remains in effect until October 27, 2009.
23. What are Electronic Reserves and how does copyright apply? ***
Electronic reserves is a web based library service that provides students with short term, limited access to materials selected by instructors. Electronic reserves access is restricted to authorized users and registered students. Instructors who submit materials to the library to be posted on electronic reserves are responsible for conducting a four factor fair use analysis, on a case-by-case basis, to determine whether use of each work requires permission or qualifies as fair use.
24. What about coursepacks and copyright? ***
A coursepack is a compilation of various copyrighted works, e.g. articles from journals, chapters from textbooks, and various other readings, that your students will purchase at the bookstore. The University of Louisville Copyright Permissions Services provides assistance in getting the necessary permissions to create printed coursepacks, and to reproduce them for sale at the University Bookstore.
25. Can I make a copy of a journal article for my research or to prepare for class? ***
Yes, making a personal copy of a copyrighted work for your research and reference is a fair use.
26. Can I quote lines from a book, poem, or song in a published work of my own? ***
Yes, reproducing portions of a copyrighted work for the purposes of comment and criticism is often allowed under fair use. A four-factor fair use analysis will need to be conducted for each excerpt you'd like to quote from each work.
27. If I'm copying something for an educational purpose, isn't that fair use? ***
It depends. Copying a copyrighted work for educational purposes doesn't automatically make that copying fair use. Fair use can only be determined on a case-by-case basis, which takes into account the balance of the four factors. See fair use for more information.
28. How do I know if I am allowed to post a work to Blackboard? **
Because there are no exact rules governing fair use, you have to use your best judgment when deciding whether to post materials to Blackboard without permission. There is no specific number of chapters, paragraphs, or lines that is certainly fair (or unfair), nor are there specific percentages. Copying a single chapter from a book may be fine, while copying the entire book usually is not. Consider the four factors mentioned above, and try to determine honestly whether your use seems reasonable. You can check your judgment by answering this question: "If someone used this much of my work would I think it was fair, or would I want to be asked for permission?"
One option is to make the material available to your students through library reserves. If you choose to use electronic reserves, you can link to those resources from the Blackboard course page.
Also remember that you should always use the password-protection features of Blackboard and limit site access to participants in your class only.
If the material is already freely available elsewhere on the web, or through library electronic resources, you can also use Blackboard to direct your students to a link. It is always legal to link to copyrighted material hosted elsewhere.
29. How do I know if I am allowed to use a work in a distance learning class? **
The Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization Act (TEACH Act) says that teachers and students at accredited educational institutions can use works for distance learning without permission under certain circumstances.
- are an educator at an accredited educational institution,
- will supervise your students' use of copyrighted materials,
- are using the material as an integral part of a class session,
- are using the material as an integral part of your curriculum, and
- are using the material that is directly related to and of material assistance to your teaching content,
and you plan to use copyrighted works in the following ways:
- performances of nondramatic literary works (i.e., a recording of a novel being read aloud);
- performances of nondramatic musical works (i.e., a recording of a symphony);
- performances of reasonable amounts of any work (i.e., an excerpt from a movie); or
- display of any work in an amount comparable to what would be used in a live classroom.
then your use aligns with the Teach Act. For more help, see North Carolina State University's TEACH Act checklist, which gives more in-depth information about copyright and distance education.
30. What if I got the work from a website? **
Works residing on a site that makes no mention of copyright should be presumed to be copyrighted; just because something is freely available on a website does not mean it is in the public domain. If a work is published online with a statement that it is in the public domain, you will have to judge whether or not these claims are trustworthy, keeping in mind that such claims will not protect you should a copyright holder object to your use.
You may encounter works online for which the author or creator specifically grants rights to use them, such as those released under a Creative Commons license. A Creative Commons license allows you to make certain uses of a work without asking for permission, provided you follow the terms set by the creator.
31. What if I created the work? **
Unless you created the work as part of your job as an employee or under contract as a work for hire, you are the author and the initial copyright holder. However, if you have transferred your copyright to someone else, such as a journal publisher, you are no longer the copyright holder and may not have any privileges to use the work. If you are not sure, you should consult your publishing agreement to see if you have retained any rights.
If you have not retained rights to use your work, then you must treat it like any other copyrighted work — decide whether the use you want to make is a fair use, and if it isn't, then ask for permission.
32. What if a student created the work? **
Students hold the copyright to the academic works they create, such as their papers, projects, theses, and dissertations. There are also privacy concerns related to the use of student work. If you wish to use student work, ask for permission.
33. What if the work was published outside the US? **
There are differences in copyright law across countries. The Berne Convention, signed by 163 countries, requires that countries recognize the works of foreign authors the same way they do those of their own nationals. For example, all works performed or published in the US, are subject to the terms of US copyright law, no matter where they were created originally. Most countries have standardized their copyright terms, so foreign copyrights tend to last as long as U.S. copyrights: the life of the author plus 70 years. When determining whether or not you can make a particular use of a foreign work, you will need to consider the specific circumstances of your case, such as the country where the work originated, whether or not the work is in print, and how you plan to use the work.
34. What does it mean if a work is Creative Commons licensed? **
Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that created a set of simple, easy-to-understand copyright licenses. These licenses allow creators to mark a work with permission to make a variety of uses, with the aim of expanding the range of things available for others to quote, adapt, and build upon. Creative Commons licenses do two things: They allow creators to share their work easily, and they allow everyone to find work that is free to use without permission. As long as you obey the terms of the license attached to the work, you can use Creative Commons licensed material without fear of accidentally infringing someone’s copyright.
For more information, visit the Creative Commons website.
35. What can I do if the use I want to make is not a fair use? **
If you have determined that the use you want to make is not a fair use, you must ask for permission from the copyright holder. See the section on requesting permission to use copyrighted material for more information and sample request letters.
36. Does “Fair Use” mean that I may copy anything for electronic reserves, and post it to Blackboard, provided I only use it for students in my classroom?
No. “Fair use” means limited use of portions of a copyrighted work without the author/owner’s permission for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship or research.
To determine fair use, the four-factor analysis must be considered:
- The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is for non-profit 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;
- The effect of the use on the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
All factors must be considered to determine a person’s right to reproduce a copyrighted work without permission.
Fair use generally means one-time use.
37. What can I put on Course Reserve in the Libraries?
- Any book or bound copies of old tests, syllabi, etc. provided it is fair use.
- No course packs or textbooks that would infringe the four factor analysis of fair use may be placed on reserve.
- Each University library has established guidelines for what is permissible to be put on Course Reserves.
38. May I place copyrighted works on Blackboard, and make them available to persons other than those enrolled in my class?
It is less likely that the fair use four factor analysis can be met in terms of copyrighted works when it is made available beyond the classroom.
39. May I post, or ask the library to post, a link to an article that is contained in a library owned database?
Copyrighted journal articles available through licensed electronic resources are subject to the terms of the license agreement between the library and the journal publishers. Creating a persistent link to the article on Blackboard would be the way to proceed.