Questions often arise around the use of copyrighted material, including books, movies and songs. In the educational setting, we often times can utilize copyrighted sources under the guidance of “fair use” established by the United States Copyright Office, but even with “fair use” there are restrictions that must be adhered to. Below is a snapshot of copyright and fair use, along with a link to an easy to reference chart.
If at any time you have questions regarding the appropriate use of content, please contact Communications prior to proceeding.
What is copyright?
Per the Library of Congress, copyright refers to the author's (creators of all sorts such as writers, photographers, artists, film producers, composers, and programmers) exclusive right to reproduce, prepare derivative works, distribute copies, and publicly perform and display their works. These rights may be transferred or assigned in whole or in part in writing by the author. Unless otherwise agreed in writing, work created by an employee is usually owned by the employer. The U.S. Copyright Act gets its authority from Article 1, Section 8, cl. 8 of the U.S. Constitution.
If a copyright is not listed on a piece of work, does that mean there is no copyright?
The Library of Congress clearly states that the absence of a copyright notice does not mean that there is no copyright. Copyright protection exists automatically from the moment of creation in a tangible fixed form, which is generally considered to include the electronic form. A notice is not required to protect copyright. Work created by employees of the federal government as a part of their job is in the public domain, i.e., not protected by copyright. This is why you may use American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940, materials in American Memory without being concerned with infringing on someone's copyright (other legal concerns may be raised in the Restriction Statements). Remember to credit your sources, even for government materials.
What is “fair use”?
Per the Library of Congress, “fair use” is an exception to the exclusive protection of copyright under American law. It permits certain limited uses without permission from the author or owner. Depending on the circumstances, copying may be considered "fair" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship or research.
To determine whether a specific use under one of these categories is "fair," courts are required to consider the following factors:
- 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 (is it long or short in length, that is, are you copying the entire work, as you might with an image, or just part as you might with a long novel); and
- the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
Keep in mind that even in an educational setting, it is not fair use to copy for a "commercial motive" or to copy "systematically," that is, "where the aim is to substitute for subscription or purchase." No factor by itself will determine whether a particular use is "fair." All four factors must be weighed together in light of the circumstances. See the U.S. Copyright Office's Copyright Information Circulars and Form Letters for "Circular 21-Reproductions of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians."