Copyright Overview

Copyright is a deliberate monopoly established by law to secure financial incentives for creators to make new works. Under the current U.S. copyright law (17 U.S. Code), any fixed work is copyrighted.  This includes published and unpublished works. Copyright is automatic, it does not require registration (though registration is recommended as it provides some legal benefits). Copyright is granted to the creator(s) (and descendants) for life plus 70 years.

The copyright owner has exclusive rights to:

  • make copies
  • distribute copies
  • make derivative work
  • publicly perform the work
  • publicly display the work
  • publicly perform by transmission (for audio works)

Copyrighted works can be used by gaining permission from the copyright owner or by one of the exemptions in the copyright law (§107-128). Use this five question Framework for Analyzing Any U.S. Copyright Problem to determine the use of a copyrighted work.

The person using reproduction equipment is responsible for any infringement.

Fair Use

Copyrighted works can be used under the Fair Use (17 U.S. Code § 107).  Fair use is the balancing of four factors:
1. purpose of the use (educational or commercial)
2. nature of the work (the more creative the more protected)
3. amount (using the "heart of the work")
4. effect on the market (decline in profits)

This is a balancing test and not one factor is dispositive. To decide if the material can be used under Fair Use, use this checklist for guidance.

Transformative Fair Use

The more transformative the purpose in using a copyrighted work the more likely the use will be covered under Fair Use. For example, parody is well protected.

Three questions to consider in transformative fair use:

1. Will the incorporation of copyrighted material into my new work help me make my new point?

2. Will the incorporation of copyrighted material help my readers/viewers get that point?

3. Have I used no more than necessary to make the point?

Classroom Use

Using copyrighted materials is not infringement if the "performance or display of a work by instructors or pupils in the course of face-to-face teaching activities of a nonprofit educational institution, in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction, unless, in the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, the performance, or the display of individual images, is given by means of a copy that was not lawfully made under this title, and that the person responsible for the performance knew or had reason to believe was not lawfully mad" (17 U.S. Code § 110(1)).

Teach Act for Online Classes

17 U.S. Code § 110(1) only applies to face-to-face teaching.  The TEACH Act,  or 
"Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization Act of 2002," amended the 17 U.S. Code § 110(2) to allow copyrighted materials to be used for online digital courses that have a closed group of registered students and the material shared is lawfully made. 

Use the TEACH Act Toolkit to comply.

DMCA

Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 created steeper penalties for creating unlawful copies of software and other technologies.  It also limited the liability of Internet Service Providers. DMCA increased copyright protection for images and other works on the Internet.

Public Domain

Copyright is not intended to last forever. Works in the public domain are not subject to copyright.  Public domain works have expired copyrights or the copyrights have been forfeited. 

Use this chart "Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States" to determine if a work is in the public domain.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons is a copyright alternative that grants licenses for use of work. A creator can issue a Creative Commons license which prescribes how a work can be used without asking permission of the creator.  Creative Commons work is indicated with  "CC-BY" notification.

More information about the many types of CC licenses and search for CC works at creativecommons.org.

The Association of Research Libraries has published a Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries.

Visit the U.S. Copyright Office at Copyright.gov

Contact the Director of Library Services at mclibrary@methodistcol.edu

The information found on this website is not legal advice.