Copyright laws can be quite confusing. Students may choose to ignore copyright law in their course work, or utilize acceptable fair use in the use of copyrighted course materials. However, if you would like to share your work with an audience beyond your classroom than it would pay to be mindful of these laws.
With much of our information coming from the Internet, students are accustomed to using available technology in their course work and research. This ease of access, however, makes copyright infringement in higher education much more possible and frequent.
For additional information on copyright, please see the US Copyright Law of the United States.
Copyright (or author’s right) is a legal term used to describe the rights that creators have over their literary and artistic works. Works covered by copyright range from books, music, paintings, sculpture, and films, to computer programs, databases, advertisements, maps, and technical drawings.
What works are protected under copyright law?
Assume that EVERYTHING is. Even handwritten letters are covered by copyright law, and the rights belong to the writer of that letter. Everything on the Internet is copyright protected, even if no copyright statement is included.
The two factors written into the law are that the work has a creator (author, artist, photographer, sculptor, etc.) and that the work is fixed in a tangible form (print, artwork, visual images, AND electronic formats, etc.).
What can I do? What can’t I do?
You can make copies of small portions (a book chapter, a single article, a single poem, etc.) to do research and study. You cannot insert copies of other people’s works into your papers and turn them in. Especially illustrations! You may quote and cite small portions of other people’s works, but an illustration is a whole work. If you simply must have an illustration created by someone else, obtain permission from the copyright holder. This applies to graphics on the Internet, as well as, photographs, etc.
This is also true with images inserted into Power Point presentations. One way around this is by obtaining open license content (Creative common license), images in the public domain, or images made by yourself.
What are the limitations and exceptions to copyright?
In some cases it may be possible to use works that are not in the public domain without needing to request authorization from or remunerate the author or the right owner. This can occur if such uses are covered by limitations and exceptions in the national legislation. Examples of limitations and exceptions include:
- the quotation of works;
- the use of news of the day; or
- the creation of accessible formats for print disabled people.
What is the difference between copyright infringement and plagiarism?
Copyright infringement includes the unauthorized or unlicensed copying of a work subject to copyright.
Plagiarism is using someone else’s work or ideas without giving proper credit. In other words, because you are not giving attribution to the owner of the original work or idea, you are presenting the idea or thought as your own.
The basic difference between the two is this: Plagiarism entails copying someone else’s work and taking credit for it as your own original work; copyright infringement entails using someone else’s work and not paying them for it.
When is copying not infringement?
Copying might be legal because the specific circumstances fall under “Fair Use,” or because the original creator has permitted use with an Open license, or because the rights holder has specifically granted you a license, or because the work is no longer under copyright, or because the work was never eligible for copyright in the first place.
The courts use four factors to determine this on a case by case basis. The factors are:
- The purpose for which the material is used
- The nature of the work being used
- The amount of the work being used in relation to the whole
- The effect on the publishing/licensing market
If you quote a few lines from a published book for a research paper, it probably is fair use, because it was for an educational, non-profit purpose, the quotation was a small amount of text compared to the book, and the quote did not impact sales of the book.
Can I freely use works published on the Internet?
A common misperception is that works published on the Internet, including on social media platforms, are in the public domain and may therefore be widely used by anybody without the authorization of the right owner. Any works protected by copyright or related rights – ranging from musical compositions, to multimedia products, newspaper articles, and audiovisual productions – for which the time of protection has not expired, are protected regardless of whether they are published on paper or digitally.
In each case you should, generally, seek the authorization of the right owner prior to use.