Skip to content
 Scroll To Top

What is Copyright Law?

The Copyright Act of 1976 became effective in 1978 as Public Law 94-553. The purpose of the law is to protect intellectual and artistic works from being reproduced without permission. The laws are quite varied and complex, and failure to comply with them may result in personal and/or institutional liability which may result in fines of up to $100,000.

Under copyright law, one cannot reproduce any copyrighted work without the permission of the copyright holder. The only exception to this rule is a doctrine known as “Fair Use,” which permits the use of a copyrighted work, including reproducing portions of that work, without the owner’s permission.

The "Fair Use Guidelines"

The Fair Use guidelines are intended to balance out the interests of copyright owners with the needs of others for access to the copyrighted material. When considering whether or not you are in violation of the Fair Use Guidelines, please take into consideration these four factors/questions:

  • The purpose and character of the material used; if you are using the material for a non-profit educational institution, you can provide in-class copies at no cost. However, you cannot have a local copying company create a packet for the class and sell it to the students.
  • The nature of the copyrighted work; is the work fiction or creative in nature? If yes, you need copyright approval.
  • The amount, substantiality or portion of the work used; how much of the work are you going to copy? If it is more than 10% or the main theme of the work is communicated, you will need copyright approval.
  • The effect of the use on the work’s potential market; will the copying eliminate the need to purchase the material, negating the copyright holders ability to earn money from their work? If yes, then you will need copyright approval.

How do I determine copyright status?

Copyrighted materials include literary, musical, dramatic, pictorial, audiovisual, audio or architectural works. Works without copyright protection are those that are considered Public Domain, which include government documents, unsealed court reports, and expired copyrights (i.e. Shakespeare). For published works not in the public domain, it is best to contact the publisher. The absence of a copyright notice cannot be relied upon to indicate that a work is in the public domain.

The purchaser of a work owns that particular copy and cannot copy the purchased work, in whole or in part, without the copyright owner’s permission, unless such copying constitutes “Fair Use.”

As an educator, what can I make copies of and not violate copyright laws?

Educators may make a single copy of any of the following for scholarly research or use in teaching or preparation:
  • A chapter from a book;
  • An article from a periodical or newspaper;
  • A short story, short essay, or short poem; or
  • A chart, graph, diagram, drawing, cartoon or picture from a book, periodical or newspaper.
Multiple copies (not to exceed more than one copy per pupil in a course) may be made provided that:
  • The distribution of the same photocopied materials does not occur every term or year.
  • The material includes a copyright notice on the first page of the material copied.
  • The students are not assessed any fee beyond the actual cost of the photocopying.
And if the following limitations with regard to amount of copying of a work are applied:
  • Poetry: 1) a complete poem if less than 250 words and if printed on not more than two pages; or 2) from a longer poem, an excerpt of not more than 250 words.
  • Prose: 1) either a complete article, story or essay of less than 2,500 words; or 2) an excerpt from any prose work of not more than 1,000 or 10% of the work, whichever is less, but in any event a minimum of 500 words.
  • Illustrations: one chart, graph, diagram, cartoon or picture per book or per periodical issue.
  • Music: up to 10% of the original work but not more than 30 seconds.
  • Motion Media (Movies): up to 10% of the original work but not more than 3 minutes.
  • Main theme of the work cannot be used, even if less than 10%; for example, the climax of a suspense book.
And it meets the cumulative effect test as described below:
  • The copying of the material is for only one course in the school in which the copies are made.
  • Not more than one short poem, article, story, essay or two excerpts may be copied from the same author, and not more than three from the same collective work or periodical volume during one class term.
  • There shall not be more than nine instances of such multiple copying for one course during one class term.

How do copyright laws relate to Web-based classes and information easily accessible on the Internet?

Before beginning any project to digitize material, you shouldn't assume you have the right to do so. It's an act of publication to digitize something and make it available on the Internet.

In 1998, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was signed into law. The principle of Fair Use generally does not apply to digital projects that converts a body of material to digital form for long-term access on the Internet. These projects typically require permission from the copyright holder. However, it may apply for specific, limited use-for example, digital course reserves. In this situation, the material would be removed at the end of the course, as well as requiring a password control/protection for access.

Gaining Copyright Permission

To gain permission on materials, the request must communicate complete information to the copyright owner. The American Association of Publishers suggests the following information be included in a letter:

  • Title, author, and edition
  • Exact material to be used, giving amount, page numbers, and chapters
  • Number of copies to be made
  • Use to be made of the duplicated materials
  • Form of distribution (classroom, newsletter, reserve, etc.)
  • Whether or not material is to be sold
  • Type of reprint (photocopy, offset, typeset, scanned, etc.)

Send request with a self-addressed stamped envelope to the permission department of the publisher in question. The process of granting permission requires time, so allow a substantial amount of lead time in your request for permission.

If you have any questions do not hesitate to contact Kathleen Wiechelman, Librarian. When in doubt, get copyright clearance!


Content maintained by Ketchikan Campus Library.

Chat requires JavaScript.