Frequently Asked Questions:
- What is Copyright?
- Does a work have to have a copyright mark on it to have a copyright?
- We are an educational institution, doesn’t that mean we can use anything?
- If it’s on the web, it’s free to use, isn’t it? (YouTube, Google Images, etc.)
- How can I tell if something is public domain?
- What is the Creative Commons?
- Everyone else is using it, why can’t I?
- How do I get permission to use a copyrighted work?
- What is the penalty if I use something without a license?
- What are the differences between copyright, patents and trademarks?
To begin: a very clear copyright overview for distance education classes can be found at:
- http://www.copyright.gov/docs/regstat52599.html (This is the statement on copyright and distance education from the Register of Copyright.
- https://copyright.columbia.edu/ (This one includes a Fair Use Checklist)
Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.
U.S. Constitution, article 1, section 8, clause 8:
“The Congress shall have power…To promote the Progress of Science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”
No. As soon as a work is fixed in a tangible form or expression it is copyrighted.
Yes, but the fair use guidelines must still be followed. Educational use is only one of four factors to be considered. (Outside of the non-profit face-to-face classroom environment, the Classroom Use Exemption doesn't apply, so non-classroom use of audio and video such as in online instruction, at conferences, in school meetings, etc. - may be allowed, but you have to think about it through the lens of fair use.)
No. Even something published on the web is in a tangible expression and therefor copyrighted.
Public Domain items include:
- works whose copyright has expired,
- those that never had a copyright and
- works created by the U.S. government.
- The U.S. Constitution is in the public domain, but Westlaw’s KeyCite and Key Number system is copyrighted by West.
- Shakespeare’s plays are in the public domain, but a book about the plays published last year may still be protected under copyright.
- Stock photographs are copyright protected, but millions of images from the British library at https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary have been released to public domain.
What is the Creative Commons? What is Open Access? Many materials are becoming available to read and re-use through Open Access Initiatives or Creative Commons Licenses, or
The Copyright Crash Course is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License
Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools.
[Their] free, easy-to-use copyright licenses provide a simple, standardized way to give the public permission to share and use your creative work — on conditions of your choice. CC licenses let you easily change your copyright terms from the default of “all rights reserved” to “some rights reserved.”
Creative Commons licenses are not an alternative to copyright. They work alongside copyright and enable you to modify your copyright terms to best suit your needs.” “What is Creative Commons” cc by 4.0
Finding Creative Commons resources: http://search.creativecommons.org/
What are Open Educational Resources?
OER defined: OER are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge Where can I find OER materials? https://www.oercommons.org/
What are Open Access Resources?
“Open-access (OA) literature is peer reviewed, digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. What makes it possible is the internet and the consent of the author or copyright-holder.” (Suber, 2004) Although the definition doesn’t say scholarly, that is mostly the kind of resources that are found as Open Access. They may also include items with Creative Commons licenses or other kinds of use restrictions.
Finding Open Access Resources: there are many places for open access resources:
- Directory of Open Access Journals: https://doaj.org/
- Directory of Open Access Books: http://www.doabooks.org/
- Directory of Open Access Repositories http://www.opendoar.org/
How can I tell if a work is in the Public Domain?
The digital slider, below, can help you determine if what you want to use is fair use or not: http://www.librarycopyright.net/resources/digitalslider/
Unless you can find the copyright owner officially stating that it is free to be used, or you have received or paid for use yourself, it is safer to use something else. In particular, the music industry and video industry are more and more invested in prosecuting copyright infringers. If you do get permission, make sure it is in writing, and that you save it.
What about getting music from YouTube to use in my video?
If someone else owns the copyright to the music, you have to get permission before you can use it. See http://www.reelseo.com/copyrighted-music-in-video/ for a helpful explanation. Also, see the explanation of using something everyone else is in this Pharrel Williams discussion.
(Talk to one of the librarians if you need help.) The basic rule is to find the copyright owner and ask for permission. Finding & contacting the copyright owner, though, can quickly become confusing. The sources below can make the search for permissions a little easier:
Permissions often (but not always) can be cleared by the Copyright Clearance Center (http://www.copyright.com/ ).
Finding copyright permission for music can often be found through:
For permission to use music sound recordings, contact the Harry Fox Agency:
For movie clips (sources and permissions)
- Find the name of the producer
- Try IMDB (Internet Movie Database)
- Contactt FOCAL international (Federation of Commercial Audiovisual Libraries International)
If you know who owns the copyright (publisher, author, etc.) you may be able to contact them directly. For example, Columbia Records, owned by Sony, has a site where permissions by individual song can be requested. (You do have to register.) https://sonymusiclicensing.com/#
Images: Flickr, YouTube and Google Images make finding free to use images and video a little easier. (Sometimes, even, you can just add “creative commons” to your search term.)
- Contact the creator, or
- Find ones that you can use by using YouTube filters. (You only see the filters after you’ve done a search.)
- Once you’ve done the search and clicked on the word FILTERS, choose Creative Commons as the filter, and you’ll get clips that are free to reuse.
- Contact the creator or
- Use the Search tools and choose Usage Rights (after you’ve searched for an image).
These are the Usage rights that Google can use to sort the images:
What is the penalty?
- A copyright infringement case could result in a cost from $750 to $30,000 for each incident of infringement. If the court decides that the infringement was willful, then it can assign up to $150,000 more.
- In a copyright infringement case, everyone involved in the copying could be held liable: for example, the professor who requested the copying, the person who took it to the copy shop, the copy shop for making the copies. It doesn’t mean that those additional people would need to know that infringement was happening. They would simply need to know that copies were being made.
- Even if the case was won (showing that you didn’t infringe) the legal costs could be enormous.
The U.S. Patent and Trademarks Office at http://www.uspto.gov/ .
Copyright: “Copyright is a form of protection provided to the authors of "original works of authorship" including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works, both published and unpublished…The copyright protects the form of expression rather than the subject matter of the writing.”
An example: “a description of a machine could be copyrighted, but this would only prevent others from copying the description; it would not prevent others from writing a description of their own or from making and using the machine. Copyrights are registered by the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress.
Trademarks: “A trademark is a word, name, symbol, or device that is used in trade with goods to indicate the source of the goods and to distinguish them from the goods of others… A trademark is a word, name, symbol, or device that is used in trade with goods to indicate the source of the goods and to distinguish them from the goods of others.
Trademark rights may be used to prevent others from using a confusingly similar mark, but not to prevent others from making the same goods or from selling the same goods or services under a clearly different mark.”
Patents: “any person who “invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent,” subject to the conditions and requirements of the law.
“Interpretations of the statute by the courts have defined the limits of the field of subject matter that can be patented, thus it has been held that the laws of nature, physical phenomena, and abstract ideas are not patentable subject matter.
“A patent cannot be obtained upon a mere idea or suggestion. The patent is granted upon the new machine, manufacture, etc., as has been said, and not upon the idea or suggestion of the new machine. A complete description of the actual machine or other subject matter for which a patent is sought is required.”
(The above information comes from (http://www.uspto.gov/patents-getting-started/general-information-concerning-patents)
There are at least three excellent resources for patent and trademark Information:
- The United States Patent and Trademark Office has many resources to help with the patent and trademark process: http://www.uspto.gov/learning-and-resources/inventors-entrepreneurs-resources, including:
- Edmon Low Library at Oklahoma State University: http://info.library.okstate.edu/patents
- University of Michigan Library: http://guides.lib.umich.edu/patents
Creative Commons (2015) About Creative Commons Retrieved July 14, 2015 from http://creativecommons.org/about.
Lindsey, Marc (2003). Copyright infringements lawsuits. Copyright Law on Campus. Pullman, Washington: Washington State University Press.
Suber, Peter. (2004). A very brief introduction to open access. Retrieved July 14, 2015 from http://legacy.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/brief.htm
NOTE: The content of these pages are to provide general information about copyright in the college environment. They are not intended as legal advice. Legal advice must be provided in the course of an attorney-client relationship that specifically focuses on all the facts of the particular situation for which legal advice is sought. You must not use the information presented here as a substitute for a licensed attorney.
When, exactly, is something “created” in terms of copyright? What is a “derivative work”? What is the difference between a compilation and a collective work? Copyright law has definitions of what it means when it says any of those things (and more) in 17 U.S. Code § 101. You can find that at either of the two sites below: