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Copyright Basics

Loyola University Chicago provides faculty with a succinct guide to the key points relevant to copyright for educators and fair use.

Copyright "has come to mean that body of exclusive rights granted by law to authors for protection of their work. The owner of copyright has the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, and, in the case of certain works, publicly perform or display the work; to prepare derivative works; in the case of sound recordings, to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission; or to license others to engage in the same acts under specific terms and conditions."*
*United States Copyright Office:A Brief Introduction and History, Circular 1a, U.S. Copyright Office, Library of Congress, Washington, DC, www.copyright.gov.

What is covered by copyright?

Any original content in any tangible format. This includes:
  • literary, musical, and dramatic works
  • pantomimes and choreographic works
  • pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works
  • sound recordings
  • motion pictures and other AV works
  • computer programs
  • architectural works
  • compilations and derivative works
Even material on the web has copyright protection, including images, music and videos.

Exceptions to copyright

Public Domain
Copyright lasts a limited number of years. Once it expires, the work is considered to be in the public domain and can be freely used and altered. Currently, copyright lasts 70 years after the death of an author, except for works produced by a company/employer, in which case the copyright lasts 90 years after date of publication or 120 years from creation. Works can also be placed on public domain through the Creative Commons license.

For more information about public domain or Creative Commons: Fair Use
As defined in Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act, fair use is a defense against charges of copyright infringement determined through the analysis and application of the four fair use factors:
  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes.
  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
These are some additional resources about Fair Use:

Copyright in the classroom

Concerning classroom distribution of copyrighted works, guidelines from Reproduction of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians, state that:
  • A single copy may be made of any of the following by or for a teacher at his or her individual request for his or her scholarly research or use in teaching or preparation to teach a class:
    • A chapter from a book
    • An article from a periodical or newspaper
    • A short story, short essay or short poem, whether or not from a collective work
    • A chart, graph, diagram, drawing, cartoon or picture from a book, periodical, or newspaper

  • Multiple copies (not to exceed in any event more than one copy per pupil in a course) may be made by or for the teacher giving the course for classroom use or discussion; provided that:
The TEACH Act addresses how educational institutions may use copyrighted materials in distance education without permission from the copyright owner.

Refer to The TEACH Act section from the Copyright Clearance Center for more information

Some useful resources include:

Obtaining Permission

You may need permission from copyright holders when creating research papers and course materials. Here is a step-by-step guide to aid you in doing so:
  1. Determine if permission is needed
    Is the material you want to use protected under copyright law? The Public Domain Slider Tool can help you determine this.

  2. Determine if you are within fair use
    Materials can be used without permission if within the boundaries of fair use.

  3. Identify the copyright holder or agent
    Generally, the publisher is either the copyright owner or can direct you to the owner(s). Some works will require permission from more than one source. You can search for copyright records (1978--) through the US Copyright Office's online catalog.

  4. Send a written request for permission to the copyright holder
    Your letter should include the exact material you would like to use, including:
    • The title, author(s) and page numbers
    • A photocopy of the material if possible
    • The number of copies you wish to make
    • How often you will use the material
    • The form of distribution
    • Whether the material will be sold

    Example letters are available at:
  5. You may need to use alternative material if:
    • The copyright own is unresponsive or can not be located
    • You are unwilling to pay a license fee

US Copyright Office

The U.S. Copyright Office serves the copyright community of creators and users, as well as the general public. Here you will find key publications, application forms for copyright registration, links to the copyright law, links to other copyright-related organizations, online copyright records cataloged since 1978; news of what the Office is doing, Congressional testimony, and much more.

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