Copyright is the group of fundamental rights given to the creators of “original works of authorship” that are “fixed in any tangible medium of expression.” These mediums include, but are not limited to: print, video, DVD, sound recordings, computer disks, and Internet communications. The rights of the copyright owner include:
Copyright infringement occurs when anybody other than the copyright owner exercises any of these rights without permission.
Under today’s law it is not necessary to register a work with the U.S. Copyright Office in order to receive copyright. Just because you do not see a copyright notice, it is not safe to assume that a work is not subject to copyright. Generally, all tangible and original works are protected by copyright. The exceptions are:
Fair use allows for the use of copyrighted materials, within certain limitations, for purposes such as “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research.” The law does not clearly delineate the boundaries of fair use. Instead, the law provides four factors, each of which must be weighed equally in order to determine fair use:
Fair use usually only applies to instructional use, such as in the classroom or the library. University activities such as extra-curricular clubs and organizations, the yearbook, or musical and dramatic presentations usually fall outside the umbrella of fair use. However, even in instructional use, all four factors must be considered in order to determine fair use.
The primary responsibility for copyright decisions lies with the individual who is responsible for overseeing the relevant project or activity. Faculty are responsible for ensuring student compliance with copyright law in classroom research and activities. The Library Director oversees copyright compliance in library-related matters. Student Services is responsible for overseeing copyright compliance in extra-curricular activities. Questions on copyright issues may be referred to the Copyright Committee.
The Copyright Committee drafts copyright policy, acts as an information resource, and advises on possible copyright violations. The Copyright Committee does not dispense legal advice or act as a policing agent.
Copyright law rarely offers a definitive application of fair use for any specific situation. Therefore, fair use depends on a case-by-case reasonable and responsible application of each of the four factors. Educational purpose weighs in favor of, but does not guarantee, fair use. Congressional committees have established “safe harbor” guidelines for fair use exemptions for institutions of higher education. However, these guidelines are not law. They represent minimal permissible conduct under which fair use can be applied. While many consider these guidelines to be too restrictive, they define the limits within which we can be sure of complying with copyright law. These guidelines include: