Copyright FAQ

1. Where can I find good background information that will explain copyright law?

The copyright law of the U.S. is available online. Both the American Library Association and the Association of Research Libraries provide additional, wide-ranging information on copyright issues. CPCC Policy 6.10 also addresses copyright.

2. How can I use copyrighted material in online classes?

The TEACH (Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization) Act provides guidelines for using copyrighted materials in distance education courses. Check the TEACH Act FAQ for answers to common questions. The American Library Association offers some additional information on the TEACH Act and Blackboard.

3. Instead of making a copy of an article available to my students, can I link to the article?

Yes! The library provides instructions for how to link to articles in the library’s databases.

4. How Do I Make a Fair Use Argument?

Copyright law sets out four factors as guidelines when making an argument that use of a copyrighted work constitutes fair use:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purpose
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work

For more detailed information, Stanford University offers an excellent overview of fair use, as does the U.S. Government Copyright Office.

5. What’s the best way to request permission from a copyright holder to use their work?

Requests for permission should be made in writing, and all communication between the faculty member and the copyright holder regarding permission should be retained by the faculty member. Model forms for requesting permission are provided by the Columbia Copyright Advising Office and the University of California.

6. If there’s no copyright mark or symbol, does that mean the work has not been copyrighted?

No. Works published since March 1, 1989 are not required to include a copyright mark or notice to gain protection under the law.

7. When do U.S. works pass into the public domain?

When a work passes into the public domain is influenced by a number of factors, including its date of publication and the copyright law current at the time of publication. A chart explaining when works pass into the public domain is available from UNC Chapel Hill. More information is also available at the Copyright Genie.

8. How does copyright effect computer programs?

The Cornell University Law School provides a brief description of copyright as it relates to computer programs.

9. I’ve heard that what and how long I can put material on reserve at the library depends on copyright. Is that true?

Copyright does limit the length of time material can be placed on reserve without the copyright holder’s permission, and prevents some items (consumables like workbooks) from being placed on reserve. The library’s reserves policy addresses these issues.

10. I have recently heard about Creative Commons Licenses. How can material with a Creative Commons License be used?

Creative Commons Licenses typically permit use of the work, as long as the original creator receives attribution. To learn more about these types of licenses and how you can use the material, please visit the Creative Commons web site .

11. Where can I read more about copyright?

Both the University of Pittsburgh and George Mason University have useful copyright FAQs.