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Copyright FAQ



How long does copyright last?

This is a complex question and depends on a number of factors including whether it was published, and if it was, the date and location of first publication. As a general rule, for works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection last for 70 years past the life of the author. Anonymous works, pseudonymous works, or works for hire have a copyright duration of 95 years from the date of first publication or 120 years from the date of creation, whichever expires first.

For works published before 1978, copyright duration varies depending on several factors including whether the copyright registration was renewed. To help to you determine the copyright status of these works, Cornell University has an excellent resource on its web site that should be of help to you. It is available at http://copyright.cornell.edu/resources/publicdomain.cfm .

Does copyright protect an idea?

No. The Copyright Act specifically excludes from copyright protection any "idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery." The expression of that idea in the form of a book or article, however, may be protected by copyright.

Do I need to include the copyright symbol or register my work to receive copyright protection?

No. Works created after January 1, 1978 are not required to include the copyright symbol to receive protection. The Copyright Act says that as soon at the original work of authorship is "fixed in a tangible medium of expression" (ie. written on paper, saved to a computer's hard drive, recorded on a digital camera's memory stick) copyright protection begins.

It may be a good idea, however, to include a copyright symbol and your name so others will know that you are the copyright owner. Copyright notices can be as simple as this: 2012 © Jeff Graveline

What does it mean if a work is in the public domain?

Works in the public domain have no copyright protection. A work can fall into the public domain for a number of reasons including lack of proper copyright notice or failure to renew (when these were required by law) or expiration of the copyright term. Works created by the United States government are in the public domain.

You are free to use works in the public domain without fear of copyright infringement.

Does fair use apply to all educational uses?

No. This is a common misconception. While fair use certainly applies in many educational situations, it does not apply in all. You should do a thorough fair use analysis before using any copyrighted materials without permission.

Are images I find using Google or Flickr protected by copyright? May I use them?

A good rule of thumb is to assume that images you find through Google or on Flickr are copyright protected. Remember the law no longer requires the copyright symbol to be included for copyright protection.

Whether you may or may not use them without permission depends on a number of factors (refer to the fair use 4 element test). Your use may be fair use in which case you are free to use them. You may also want to contact the copyright holder to ask permission before using them.

Finally, many images on Flickr are licensed under a Creative Commons (www.creativecommons.org) license which allows users to use the image with certain restrictions.

If I cite my sources can I avoid copyright infringement?

Copyright infringement and plagiarism are two different issues. Citing your sources will help protect you from plagiarism. Not so with copyright infringement. Remember that copyright infringement is based on use without permission not on citing the source. Even so, it is always a good idea to cite your sources.

May I show a film to my class?

Under certain circumstances, yes, you may show a film to your class. Section 110(a) of the Copyright Act allows instructors and students at non-profit educational institutions to show films (or display other copyrighted works) in a classroom or other similar place devoted to instruction in the course of face-to-face teaching activities. That is, if the film ties into your some educational purpose for your course you may show it to your students. It should go without saying that the film must be legally obtained to fall within this exception.

Columbia University's Copyright Advisory Office has more information on this, including scenarios where showing a film would and would not be permissible.

Can I make copies of articles or portions of books to use in my classrooms?

Yes, to a certain extent. The fair use section of the Copyright Act specifically provides that reproduction of a copyrighted work for "teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use)" is not an infringement under the fair use doctrine. Of course, you should perform a fair use analysis before using such materials.

If you use copyrighted materials in class be sure to include the original copyright notice on all copies.

May I post articles or other scanned materials to my Blackboard course for students to read?

When deciding whether to post materials to Blackboard you should consider a few things. First, if the content is available through one of the university's licensed databases or if a legal copy is available on the web you should link to it rather than scanning and uploading it to Blackboard.

Second, if you choose to upload copyright protected content, you should always perform a fair use analysis. It is recommended that you also include a copyright notice somewhere in your online course letting students know that the material is to be used only for that specific course and should not be further disseminated. An example is below:
COPYRIGHT NOTICE: The University of Alabama at Birmingham is committed to complying with all applicable laws regarding copyright. Under certain circumstances, copyright law allows professors to provide copies of copyrighted works to students. These works may be used only to support the educational purposes of this class. No further transmission or electronic distribution of these works is permitted.

2012 © University of Alabama at Birmingham
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