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Copyright Playbook

Modified with permission from Ingrid Redman, Bern Dibner Library of Science and Technology, NYU-Poly.

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Copyright FAQs

What is copyright and what can be protected?

Copyright legally protects eight categories of work from illegal use by others who are not the creator or owner of the work. Specifically, it protects the following eight categories of works:

  1. literary works
  2. musical works
  3. dramatic works
  4. pantomimes and choreographic works
  5. pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  6. motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  7. sound recordings
  8. architectural works

See Fair Use for what is allowed without prior permission.

When does a copyright take effect?

A copyright arises as soon as an idea is created and recorded as a tangible form of expression. Even if the author or authors did not apply a statement or symbol, those persons still possess rights over their creative works.

What rights are granted to the copyright holder under Federal statute (17 USC 106)?

  1. The copyrighted work may be reproduced in copies,
  2. The copyright holder may prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work,
  3. The copyright holder may distribute copies to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending,
  4. The copyright holder may perform the work(s) publicly in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  5. The copyright holder may display the work(s) n the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to display the copyrighted work publicly; and
  6. The copyright holder may perform the copyright work publicly in the case of sound recordings, by means of a digital audio transmission.

Who has ownership of a copyrighted work?

Usually, the creator or author has ownership in the creative work. (17 USC 201(a)). However, there is an exception when the copyrighted work is a "work for hire." Section 101 of the Copyright Act (title 17 of the U.S. Code) defines a “work made for hire” in two parts: a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment, or a work specially ordered or commissioned for use (1) as a contribution to a collective work, (2) as a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, (3) as a translation, (4) as a supplementary work, (5) as a compilation, (6) as an instructional text, (7) as a test, (8) as answer material for a test, or (9) as an atlas (

What does "fixed" mean, within the phrase, "fixed within a tangible medium"?

The work must be recorded in some physical medium, whether on paper, audio, computer, or future medium that allows for reproduction or performance of that work. A spontaneous speech or spontaneous playing of music, such as a song that is not recorded, is not protected by copyright.

What is the goal of copyright?

The goal of copyright is to provide the copyright holder with legal rights to the specific work so that others may not use or reproduce the work without permission.

How does copyright differ from patents and trademarks?

Copyright gives exclusive rights to the copyright owner regarding the duplication or performance of a work. Patents concern the exclusive right to sell a physical invention or something that can be converted to a physical invention. Trademarks protect words, phrases, or symbols that identify a brand, product, or service.

Can a copyright be bought or sold?

Yes, just like any other property, a copyright can be bought and sold by the legal copyright holder.

What is intellectual property?

Intellectual property is any product of the human intellect that the law protects from unauthorized use by others and includes patents, copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets.

Do I have to include a copyright notice on my work?

Until 1989, a published work had to contain a valid copyright notice, but this is no longer required. If someone ever violates your copyright, however, a notice is required to file a copyright infringement lawsuit.

How can I find out what is copyrighted so I can get permission to use it?

The best way is through copyright collectives or clearinghouses. For example, the Copyright Clearance Center (, and iCopyright ( provide permissions for written materials. Anything published after 1989 should be considered copyrighted.

What is the TEACH Act?

The Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization Act (See Section 110(2) of the U.S. Copyright Act) is an act created to achieve a balance between protecting copyrighted works and permitting educators to use those materials in distance education.

What is "fair use"?

The current copyright law contains a codified concept called "fair use" (Section 107). Fair use lets someone other than the copyright holder copy and distribute copyrighted material - in certain situations - without first obtaining permission. Without "fair use", copyright's constitutional purpose to enhance learning, and promote knowledge would not work. The law specifically allows fair use for criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, and scholarship or research.

What are the general tenets of "fair use"?

Fair use is a doctrine unique to the law of the United States that permits limited use of copyrighted material without having to first acquire permission from the copyright holder. Please note that this is narrowly defined by the courts primarily for uses in teaching and libraries. According to Merriam-Webster, fair use is a legal doctrine that portions of copyrighted materials may be used without permission of the copyright owner provided the use is fair and reasonable, does not substantially impair the value of the materials, and does not curtail the profits reasonably expected by the owner.

What is CONFU?

CONFERENCE ON FAIR USE: Because of thorny issues regarding technology and education, a group of librarians, publishers, educators, technical experts, and others decided to meet in 1994 with then Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown. The group, CONFU, tried to draft a set of fair use guidelines for various electronic formats, including the Internet. Electronic reserves, distance learning, production of multimedia, and interlibrary loan were discussed, and guidelines were issued in 1997. These guidelines are not law, but rather an agreement among the organizations represented within CONFU. The guidelines should neither be considered as a safe harbor, nor as a law that must be followed, but to follow them at least points to a good faith effort to follow copyright procedures. The complete CONFU report can be found at

The Eleventh Circuit Court rejected the "10%" rule proffered by CONFU in Cambridge University Press vs. Patton and recommended a case-by-base evaluation for fair use.

What is the "Library Copyright Alliance"?

American Library Association (ALA), Association of Research Libraries (ARL), American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), Special Libraries Association (SLA), and Medical Libraries Association (MLA)

What is first sale?

First sale allows someone to resell, lend, or dispose of a lawfully acquired copyrighted work. That is how people can sell music albums and books that they have bought, and how libraries can lend books. That is, after the initial sale of a copyrighted work, the copyright owner cannot control future sales or lending of the item.

What are the Copyright Protection Periods?

Copyright Protection Periods:
Date Work was Created:  Term of Protection:
Before 1923 In the public domain
1923-1963 28 years plus renewal for 47 years (plus another 20 years provided by the Sonny Bono Act of 1998) making total protection time 95 years. If not renewed, protection expires after 28 years.
1964-1977 28 years plus renewal for 67 years
1978 and after The life of the author plus 70 years. If a work has multiple authors, the protection under the most recent law (1976) is the life of the longest-living author plus 70 years. If the author is anonymous, or if the work is made for hire, the 1976 law protects the work for 95 years from the year of first publication or 120 years from the year of creation, whichever expires first.
Anonymous work Copyright lasts 95 years from the date of registration or 125 years from the date of creation, whichever is shorter.

Can I copy pages from a book or a textbook?

Under certain circumstances, you are allowed to make copies for personal use, provided it is for an educational purpose. Some textbooks are considered consumables, which means they are meant to be used only once and by one person only. By making copies of consumables, you are robbing the copyright holders (publishers, authors, etc.) of a sale.

Can I print an article from a VCCS database or copy magazine article?

Since the article is only one part of an entire magazine, journal, or newspaper, printing articles for your personal research from a database or directly from the print journal, magazine, or newspaper is acceptable.

Can I rent a movie and show it in my classroom?

Yes, faculty of a nonprofit educational institution may show all or part of a video (i.e. documentary, motion picture) in a face-to-face class setting. The showing must be associated with instructional activities and the venue must be a classroom or facility designated for instruction within the confines of the campus. Instruction must be part of the presentation. The performance of the video must be a private performance and not open to the public.

May I borrow a movie from the library and show it in my classroom?

Yes. A faculty member can use a rented video the same way as a purchased video.  A faculty member at a nonprofit educational institution may show all or part of a rental video (i.e. documentary, motion picture) in a face-to-face class setting. The showing must be associated with instructional activities and the venue must be a classroom or facility designated for instruction within the confines of the campus. Instruction must be part of the presentation. The performance of the video must be a private performance and not open to the public.

May I embed a movie link in Canvas from Films on Demand, Kanopy, or other places?

Yes. Contact us to find out how to do this, or use our Linking to Library Resources playbook.

Can I put photocopies on reserve? How much of this book can I photocopy?

The use of one chapter may or may not fall into the realm of fair use. However, consider contacting the library to see if you can put this on reserve for your class or if the library has an electronic version of the book that can be linked to your class. In addition, please see the question “Can I copy pages from a book or a textbook?”

Can faculty or student groups show videos outside of class?

A very long maybe - if the title desired has been purchased by the library with public performance rights, such as through Films on Demand or Kanopy; if there are no license conditions prohibiting such use; if the intended use is educational and non-profit in nature; and if you are not charging entrance fees. Usually, however, you will need to seek permission or rent the title from a service that offers public performance rights. Contact us for more details.

Permission to convert media from one format to another, such as VHS to DVD or digital.

When you purchase a copyrighted work (like on VHS), you are the owner of only that one copy; you are not the owner of the copyright in general. Therefore, you cannot copy the contents onto another format, even if the desired format is not available for purchase. You must get permission from the copyright owner, or preferably, purchase a copy in the new desired format.

Can I provide access to copyrighted articles in Canvas?

Libraries recommend that faculty link to articles from the library’s databases or the Web in lieu of attaching files. This method of access ensures the authors’ copyrights are protected since no copy is made. However, if you have to upload the file, please ensure that the work is in the public domain, licensed under a Creative Commons license, or that the use is a fair use.

Can I put the PDFs of articles in Canvas or LibGuides?

You may link to PDFs from library subscription databases and the Web. See also “Can I provide access to copyrighted articles in Canvas?”

Can I show YouTube videos in class or post a video in Canvas or LibGuides?

Yes, you may link to YouTube videos in your class and on LibGuides. Make sure to check your links occasionally as these videos can “disappear” if there is evidence of copyright infringement on the poster's part. Also, do not knowingly link to a video that has been posted illegally.

Can I use an article I found online?

Please see the question “Can I provide access to copyrighted articles in Canvas?”

Can I use a resource from a textbook we are not using?

Textbooks are copyrighted by the publisher, and use of any part of a textbook without written permission from the publisher is not recommended. Ask a librarian for more information.