FAQs

What is copyright?
When does copyright begin?
How long does copyright protection last?
What can be copyrighted?
What is not protected by copyright?
Are unpublished works protected by copyright?
What kind of material is in the public domain?
Is material I find on the Internet considered public domain?
Can I use content from a YouTube video in my presentation?
Can I use images I find on the web in my presentation?
Can I make a digital copy of an analog DVD or VHS tape to show to my online class?
Can I scan a coursepack and add it to my Blackboard course shell?
Are out-of-print works still protected by copyright?
Do I have to cite my source when using a public domain document?
Must I obtain permission to use copyrighted material?
Are there items that I can use without having to obtain permission?
Where can I find more information on illegal downloading?
What is Creative Commons?

 

What is copyright?

Copyright is a legal protection extended to creators of original works. It grants ownership and other rights to the authors of literary, dramatic, musical, and choreographed works; pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works; motion pictures and audio-visual works; sound recordings; computer software, digital media, and products; and other intellectual property.

When does copyright begin?

Copyright begins as soon as something is fixed in tangible form. Until 1988, a work had to be either registered with the Library of Congress Copyright Office and/or identified by the © symbol or a copyright notice statement to be protected by copyright, but today copyright protection is automatically extended when a work is created.

How long does copyright protection last?

Copyright is legally recognized for the life of the author plus 70 years. In the case of corporate authorship, the term is 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is less. During this time, the holder of the copyright retains the legal right to publish, reproduce, perform, display, and distribute the work.

What can be copyrighted?

Literary works, research and reports (graphs, tables, data), artwork, animations, movies and videos, musical works (including lyrics), computer programs, photographs and images, and architectural works.

What is not protected by copyright?

Ideas, commonly known facts, names, short phrases, titles, URLs, and works in the public domain.

Are unpublished works protected by copyright?

Yes. Since copyright begins when a work is fixed in tangible form, unpublished works are granted the same copyright protection as published works.

What kind of material is in the public domain?

“Public domain” refers to materials that are not protected by copyright and can, therefore, be used freely. Material in this category includes:

  1. Works with expired copyright (generally speaking, items published before 1923 are in the public domain);
  2. Works not copyrightable or protected by copyright;
  3. Works produced by a federal government employee in the course of his or her job;
  4. Works clearly donated to the public domain.

Is material I find on the Internet considered public domain?

As a rule of thumb, you should consider information on the Internet to be protected by copyright law and treat it accordingly. Just because something is publicly accessible does not mean that it is not protected by copyright.

Can I use content from a YouTube video in my presentation?

This is a topic that has generated much discussion in copyright and publishing circles. Some feel a video should not be embedded without permission from the copyright holder while others point out that embedding a video does not involve actually making a copy of the video but only creating a link to the video using embedded HTML code.

CMU’s position is that videos can be used and embedded as long as they were placed in You Tube legitimately. If you click on the Share button below the video itself and there are no restrictions or limitations placed on the use of that video you may embed it.

If you want to avoid this gray area altogether, simply provide a link to the You Tube page for the video. Remember that copyright doesn’t even come into play when providing a link to an item because no actual copying of content is taking place.

Can I use images I find online in my presentation?

Images found on the Web are protected by copyright in the same way YouTube videos are protected. If you wish to use an image in a presentation, it is recommended that you observe the guidelines for the fair use of images posted on our Creating Multimedia page. If using a large number of images from a single source, seeking permission from the copyright holder is recommended.

TIP – On Flickr, when you mouse over an image that appears in the search results, a small letter i icon will appear in the lower right corner of the image. Clicking on this icon will give you rights information about the image.

Creating an Image Credits slide at the end of your presentation is advised. This slide is to provide a list of the URLs from which you obtained the images. 

Can I make a digital copy of an analog DVD or VHS tape to show to my online class?

According to the TEACH Act, if a digital copy of the item is available it must be purchased and used. If such a copy is not available, you may freely digitize no more than 10% of the overall content or three minutes, whichever is less. If you want to digitize an entire video, please contact the Course Reserve and Copyright Services office and they will seek permission from the copyright holder to do this.​

Can I scan a coursepack and add it to my Blackboard course shell?

No, this is not permitted. Copyright law requires that usage fees must be paid to the copyright holders each time their content is used in a coursepack. By law, coursepacks are consumable items, intended to be purchased by their users. Scanning them and making them available in Blackboard circumvents this legal requirement.

If you still want to make this material available to your students, talk to the library’s Course Reserves and Copyright Services office about making material available in Blackboard through electronic course reserves.

Are out-of-print works still protected by copyright?

Unless the item has entered the public domain, yes, it is still protected. Just because something is out of print does not mean that it is no longer protected by copyright. Under today's law, extends until 70 years after the death of the creator of the work. Here is a link to a table on when items pass into the public domain (i.e. are no longer protected by copyright).

Do I have to cite my source when using a public domain document?

Legally, you are not compelled to provide attribution when using an item from the public domain. It is common practice in academia, however, to show respect for others by providing attribution, even when using public domain material.

Must I obtain permission to use copyrighted material?

It depends on how much of a work you want to use. Using a limited portion of a work may be protected under the idea of fair use, in which case obtaining permission is not necessary. For more information on this see our What is Fair Use? page.

If you use an entire work, however, or a portion of a work that is larger than what is allowed by the idea of fair use, you are obligated to seek permission from the copyright holder.

Are there items that I can use without having to obtain permission?

Here are a few categories of items that may be used freely:

  1. Self-authored material (unpublished) -- Since you are the copyright holder you can use it as you wish (Be aware that self-authored materials that have been published are subject to the terms of copyright stated in the publishing contract);
  2. Government publications -- Publications of the United States government are considered public domain and, therefore, can be used freely;
  3. Items in the public domain -- If an item has passed into the public domain, it is no longer protected by copyright and can be used without limitation;
  4. Open access material -- Many authors create material that is intended to be used and shared freely. In most cases, all the author asks is an acknowledgement of the source of the item;
  5. Items from the CMU Libraries collections -- According to our licensing agreements, items from the electronic journals, article databases, and print journal and book collections owned by the CMU Libraries may be placed on electronic reserve without having to obtain permission or pay usage charges.

And remember that linking to an item is an easy way to make an item available without having to enter into a discussion of copyright. Since a link is simply pointing someone toward an item and not making a copy of the item (which is the point at which copyright comes into play) you do not have to obtain permission from the copyright holder. You will want to be sure, however, that the page you are linking to does not contain infringing content.

And always remember that fair use allows you to use a limited portion of a work in the name of teaching, scholarship, and criticism.

Where can I find more information on illegal downloading?

The Office of Information Technology has a great FAQ page that addresses peer-to-peer sharing.

What is Creative Commons?

Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that promotes open access to and the sharing of creative work. Works licensed through Creative Commons have fewer usage restrictions than traditionally copyrighted works. More information can be found on their web site.

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