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Copyright

This guide will help you navigate U.S. copyright law in your scholarly activities.

General FAQs

  1. How do I know if a work is copyrighted? What if I want to use a copyrighted work in the classroom or in publication?
  2. How do I find out who owns the copyright?
  3. How do I get permission to use a copyrighted work?
  4. How do I determine if something is fair use?
  5. How do I know how much of a work I can use under fair use?
  6. Can I repeatedly use the same material under fair use?
  7. Can I freely use works in the public domain?
  8. Are materials on the Internet publicly available for free use?

1. How do I know if a work is copyrighted? What if I want to use a copyrighted work in the classroom or in publication?

Ideas are not copyrighted, but the expression of these ideas are. Since 1978, anything set into a physical format (including electronic files) is automatically protected under copyright law. For pre 1978-works, use this table to help you determine if it is copyright-protected or if it has passed into the public domain.

Best Practices

  • Assume all works, including online materials, are copyrighted unless they fall under public domain. Public domain works include most government documents.
  • If a work is copyrighted, determine whether your use falls under fair use.
  • If your use does not fall under fair use or you are using the same work repeatedly, contact the copyright owner for permission to use freely or to pay royalty fees.

2. How do I find out who owns the copyright?

Copyright usually belongs to the publisher, not the author. When you publish in a journal or book, review your contract or agreement to see who has copyright and control over your work. To find the publisher, check the back of the title page of a book or journal, or ask the library for assistance.

Best Practices

  • When you publish an article, make sure your agreement with the publisher gives you the right to make copies, use it in classes, and post it on your personal or institutional website.

3. When and how do I get permission to use a copyrighted work?

First, ensure that your use does not fall under fair use. If it does not, or you're using the same copyrighted material repeatedly, contact the publisher (as listed on the title page of the work in question) or use a service such as the Copyright Clearance Center. Before contacting the Copyright Clearance Center, make sure you've searched for comparable resources available through the library's licensed resources, in the public domain, or under a Creative Commons license. If the search yields nothing, contact your campus library for assistance.

Best Practices

  • Retain your fair use rights for the first time you use materials.
  • Only use the CCC or contact the publisher yourself if your use does not fall under fair use.
  • Use the CCC if you are using materials repeatedly over several years.
  • Use the CCC to seek permissions to create digital or paper course packs of materials.
  • Contact the CCC if you are authoring a book or other material that is using copyrighted materials.

4. How do I determine if something is fair use?

Consult the four factors of fair use. If you answer yes to all four factors, the use is fair use; if you answer no to one, carefully weigh all the fair use criteria. Under fair use, you need not ask permission or pay a licensing fee.

Best Practices

  • Give attribution for every item used - author, title, volume, year.
  • Link to articles in the library's electronic journals instead of copying and distributing them.

5. How do I know how much of a work I can use under fair use?

There is no set percentage of a work you can use for factual and scientific information. One guideline is to think about how you would want your own work used.

Best Practices

  • Select only one chapter from a book or place the book on reserve in the Library.
  • Use one, at most two, articles from a single journal issue.
  • Use materials from several current journals instead of from one journal title.
  • Use 2 or 3 images from a book or multimedia resource.
  • Use a variety of sources of information.
  • Seek permission when in doubt.

6. Can I repeatedly use the same material under fair use?

While not required under copyright law, common practice is to seek permission and/or pay permission or royalty fees for repeated use of the same copyrighted material.


7. Can I freely use works in the public domain?

Works in the public domain are not covered by copyright law and can be freely used in the entirety. Public domain works include those that have fallen out of copyright and those that are specifically placed in the public domain (such as U.S. government documents).

Best Practices

  • Assume that everything published before 1923 is in the public domain.
  • If the work was published in 1923 or later, check Cornell's public domain chart to see if it is copyright-protected.
  • Use U.S. government materials that do not have copyright restrictions.

8. Are materials on the Internet publicly available for free use? What about images?

Materials on the Internet are protected under copyright law. Many people creating online content expect others will use it for noncommercial purposes, but permissions must be found if their use does not fall under fair use.

Best Practices

  • Check the website for statements about restrictions on use.
  • Check to see if there is a Creative Commons license allowing free use under certain conditions.
  • Ask permission to use the materials - most sites will say yes.
  • Link to the site instead of copying the content.

Guide Information

Last Updated: Oct 25, 2022 7:19 PM
URL: https://libguides.pcom.edu/copyright