It's important to be aware of our rights and responsibilities with regard to the copyright laws.  Unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material, including unauthorized peer-to-peer file sharing, may subject you to civil and criminal liabilities.  Below are some general guidelines and links to some good copyright websites.

Copyright protects original forms of expression.  This may be printed as in a book or it may be a video, work of art, music, or software. All items are protected as soon as they are in tangible form; they do not have to be published, registered or include the copyright symbol to enjoy full protection under the law.  A good rule of thumb is to assume that everything is copyrighted.  The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 gives items copyright protection for  the life of the author plus 70 years for individuals or for  95 years in the case of a corporate author. 

Rights granted exclusively to a copyright holder are:

  • reproduction of all or part of a work,
  • distribution of copies,
  • preparation of derivative works,
  • performance and display of works.

 Under the “Fair Use” exemption, educators are permitted to make limited use of copyrighted works for teaching, scholarship, or research.  When deciding whether a use is a fair use, consider the following factors:

  • the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for non-profit educational purposes
  • the nature of the copyrighted work
  • the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the work as a whole
  • the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the work

Multiple copying for classroom use has some specific guidelines.  The number of copies cannot exceed the number of students in the class and copies must include the copyright notice present in the original.  Use of these materials must also meet tests of brevity, spontaneity, and cumulative effect.  Brevity sets limits on the amount of material that can be used.  Generally, a maximum of 10% is allowed.  Spontaneity means that the decision to use the material and the time it is needed are so close together that it is unreasonable to expect a timely reply when asking for permission.  If there is time, write the copyright owner for permission.  Cumulative effect limits an instructor to no more than 9 instances of multiple copying in a term. Copies cannot be used as substitutes for anthologies or be substituted for purchase.  If students are charged for copies, they can only be charged for the actual cost of copying.

Forms of media other than books and journals are subject to the same restrictions.  Users must consider the factors determining fair use and must follow the brevity, spontaneity, and cumulative effect guidelines.  This includes video, audio, and Internet materials.

 For further information, visit these websites:

U.S Copyright Office

Federal Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998

Copyright Clearance Center

Crash Course in Copyright

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