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Copyright Basics

Copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the use and reproduction of published works. Under the "fair use" provision of the Copyright Act of 1976, you are permitted to photocopy and distribute portions of copyrighted works for educational use, without securing permission from the owner or paying royalties. If you use a photocopy or reproduction for purposes other than fair use, you may be liable for copyright infringement.

For all educational uses, make sure you acknowledge the copyright owner/author/creator by including correct attribution and citations. For more information see:

United States Copyright Office

For information on the use of existing copyrighted items in one's art-making, see: Copyright and Art-making

Copyright Exclusive Rights

According to Title 17 of the U.S. Code, the copyright owner has the exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following:

  • to reproduce or copy the work
  • to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work
  • to distribute copies to the public by sale or transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease or lending
  • to display their work in public
  • to perform their work in public

Education Use Exemptions

Fair Use - Section 107

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 (sole rights of the copyright owners), the fair use of a copyrighted work for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is fair use, the factors to be considered shall include:

  • 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 relationship to the work as a whole.
  • The effect of the use on the potential market for the work.

 Reproduction by libraries and archives - Section 108

Libraries are authorized to exercise special rights in addition to fair use. These rights are described in Section 108 of the copyright law and include:

  • archiving lost, stolen, damaged or deteriorating works
  • making copies for library patrons
  • making copies for other libraries' patrons (interlibrary loan)

First Sale Doctrine - Section 109

Under this section, anyone who owns a lawfully manufactured and acquired copy of a copyrighted work may distribute that copy by resale, rental or loan. This refers to published works and is the basis for how libraries operate.

Face to Face Exemption - Section 110(1)

Performance or display of a lawfully made and acquired work by instructors or pupils in the course of face-to-face teaching of a non-profit educational institution, in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction is not an infringement of copyright. Four requirements in meeting the face-to-face exemption are:

  •  Performance or display must be given by an instructor or pupil. If there is a guest lecturer presenting a work and the course instructor is present, this may not be an infringement. Any presentation without the instructor present would be an infringement.
  • The performance or display must involve face-to-face teaching. The instructor and the students must be together. Closed circuit transmission and distance learning are grey areas at the moment.
  • Performance or display must be limited to teaching activity. This means that recreational movie watching may be an infringement of copyright.
  • Performance takes place in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction. The key here is that a space is considered a classroom at the time the instructor and students are present.

Works You Can Reproduce

Public Domain

You may need to check with the U.S. Copyright Office or a publisher to determine if an item is still under copyright restrictions. General copyright duration:

  • Works published prior to January 1, 1978 - 75 years
  • Works published before 1923 - could be in public domain
    • Unique interpretations and versions, elements within the work, revised
      editions, or remakes will be copyrighted from the time of those revisions,
      remakes or additions.
  • Works published with notice from 1923 to 1963 - 28 years + renewal of 47 years + extension renewal of 20 years, for a total possible renewal of 67 years.
    • If not renewed, in public domain
  • Works published with notice from 1964 to 1977 - 28 years + automatic extension of 67 years
  • Works created after January 1, 1978 - life of author + 70 years
    • Anonymous work, work made for hire or by corporate authors - 95 years from first publication or 120 years from its creation, whichever comes first.
  • Works created before Januay 1, 1978, but not published - life + 70 years or December 31, 2002, whichever is greater
  • Works created before January 1, 1978, but published between then and December 31, 2002 - life + 70 years or December 31, 2047, whichever is greater.

The Stanford University Libraries and Academic Information Resources (SULAIR) maintains the "Determinator" Copyright Renewal Database [http://collections.stanford.edu/determinator/], an online resource to enable users to search copyright-renewal records for books published in the United States between 1923 and 1963.

U.S. Government Publications

    Government publications include the opinions of courts in legal cases, Congressional Reports on proposed bills, testimony offered at Congressional hearings, and reports of government employees.


    Freeware is not shareware, and is expressly available free of restrictions. Although a particular freeware program may be protected by law, the author has chosen to make it available without any restrictions.

Works That May Require Permission to Reproduce

Copyrighted works

Unpublished Works

    The law gives automatic copyright protection to unpublished works from the time they are created until they are published. The Copyright Term Extension Act, otherwise known as the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act, or as the Mickey Mouse Bill extends protection for works created before January 1, 1978 for the life of the author + 70 years after or until December 31, 2002, whichever shall later occur. Works created after January 1, 1978 and not published enjoy copyright protection for the life of the author plus seventy years.

Some published graphics

    Certain maps, anatomical diagrams, and drawings contained in a book may be copyrighted separately from the book and may not be reproduced without permission.

Getting Permission

Contact the publisher, or the copyright owner, or the U.S. Copyright Office about copyright restrictions. Provide the following information to expedite the process:

  • Title, author and/or editor, and edition of materials to be duplicated
  • Exact material to be used, giving amount, page numbers, chapters and, if possible, a photocopy of the material
  • Number of copies to be made
  • Use to be made of duplicated materials (including time period or duration if copying on an on-going basis is desired)
  • Form of distribution (classroom, newsletter, etc.)
  • Whether or not the material is to be sold
  • Type of reprint (ditto, photocopy, offset, typeset).

Other Copyright Information

Law, policies, guidelines, papers, and opinions regarding copyright and fair use.

UC Berkeley Guidelines for Off-Air Taping for Educational Purposes (Kastenmeier Guidelines)

Visual Resources Association Copyright, Intellectual Property Rights, Fair Use

Stanford University Copyright & Fair Use

Copyright Term Extension Act

Updated: 7.19.04; revised 7/25/05

Last edited by susan on Jan 04, 2016
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