Aerial view of campus with Williamsport, the Susquehanna River and Bald Eagle Mountain as a backdrop

Academic Copyright Overview

Copyright FAQs, including Access to Copyright-Free Resources

Where can I find information about copyright compliance for college faculty and staff members?

See Copyright Compliance for Faculty and Staff Members on the Copyright Clearance Center's Quick Links page.

What is the purpose of Copyright Law?

Copyright law benefits the public by advancing the progress of science and art. Created by Congress, the law is balanced by the copyright holder's rights and certain user exemptions, such as Fair Use, making copies for classroom use, etc.

What is copyright law regarding what can and cannot be protected?

Please see Circular 1: Copyright Basics of the U.S. Copyright Office.

Can a copyrighted work be used in the classroom without obtaining clearance?

If its use falls under fair use guidelines, it can be used - - at least for the first time you use it, while you are obtaining permission for to use it for subsequent semesters.

See also Circular 21: Reproduction of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians of the U.S. Copyright Office.

What is "fair use"?

Fair Use places limits on copyright holder's exclusive rights for specific purposes. It is contained in section 107 of the Copyright Law of the United States.

Please see this document on Fair Use from the U.S. Copyright Office.

Also, this checklist from Columbia University Libraries' Copyright Advisory Office may be helpful as a tool in considering the balance of the four factors of Fair Use.

Does copyright protection ever end?

Yes, it eventually ends and a work becomes part of the public domain, meaning that the work will eventually belong to everyone.

What is public domain?

The public domain encompasses works, information, and artistic creations that were never protected by copyright,or are no longer protected by copyright.

Works of the U.S. government produced by government employees are in the public domain.

Which works fall under public domain?

Copyright Term and Public Domain in the United States, 1 January 2009, a table prepared by Peter B. Hirtle, Intellectual Property Officer, Cornell Institute for Digital Collections, clearly explains dates of works and terms of copyright protection.

Is everything on the Internet in the public domain?

Although almost everything on the Internet can be downloaded and copied easily, Internet content is copyrighted. The same rules apply as for printed materials.

May images or film clips found on Web pages be used provided that the site from which they are copied is cited?

Yes, but the use must be for educational purposes. They may be used in the classroom and posted online if the use is for distance education.

How can I locate works that are either copyright-free, free for educational use, or in the public domain?

Here are suggested sources for locating works that are free for educational use or in the public domain:

  • Internet Archive - provides access to digitized collections of texts, audio, musical performances, and moving images.
  • Books:
    • Project Gutenberg -includes over 27,000 copyright-free books.
    • Google Books - only permits downloading of books that are copyright-free.
    • The Online Books Page (University of Pennsylvania) - offers 35,000 copyright-free books.
    • Bibliomania - features more than 2,000 literary classics in the public domain.
  • Music (sheet music):
  • Images:
    • Flickr Creative Commons - can search for images and illustrations that Flickr contributors offer with Creative Commons licenses. See licensing explanations at the right.
    • VADS: The Online Resource for Visual Arts - can search for images from visual art collections of over 100,000 images contributed by institutions in Great Britain. Terms of Use state that the images may be used for teaching purposes.
  • Multimedia:
    • Wikimedia Commons - can search for image, sound, and video files that contributors offer with Creative Commons licenses. See the Reusing Guide under Participating on the Home page for more details about permitted use.

What is Open Access?

Open Access often refers to publishing. The phrase is used to describe materials on the Internet that are free to use.

Where can I find recent works that can be used without requesting permission?

Creators or licensors can apply a Creative Commons license, which signals that their works can be used without having to ask for permission - as long as you comply with their limited rights reserved statements.CCSearch can be used to locate educational materials with Creative Commons licenses.

Authors now have the option of publishing their research in open access journals. These are available at the Directory of Open Access Journals. Many of these journals are also available from Snowden Library's Periodicals A-to-Z List.

What about anonymous works?

Anonymous works are protected by copyright. Contact the publisher, if known.

What if a book is out of print?

If the term of copyright for a book is not expired, it is still protected under copyright law.

To find more information regarding copyright issues, visit these Web sites:

Recommended Books in Snowden Library's collection:

  • Complete Copyright: An Everyday Guide for Librarians / Carrie Russell, Dwayne K. Butler, American Library Association
    Ref. KF2995 .R87 2004
  • The Complete Copyright Liability Handbook for Librarians and Educators / Tomas A. Lipinski
    KF3080 .L57 2006
  • Copyright for Teachers and Librarians / Rebecca Butler
    KF2995 .B88 2004
  • Copyright in Cyberspace: Questions and Answers for Librarians / Gretchen McCord Hoffmann
    Ref. KF3030.1.Z9 H64 2001
  • Fair Use, Free Use, and Use by Permission: How to Handle Copyrights in All Media / Lee Wilson
    KF2995 .W477 2005
  • Intellectual Property: Everything the Digital-Age Librarian Needs to Know / Timothy Lee Wherry
    KF2980 .W44 2008
  • The Public Domain: How to Find and Use Copyright-free Writings, Music, Art, and More / Stephen Fishman
    Ref. KF3022.Z9 F57 2006
  • Technology and Copyright Law: A Guidebook for the Library, Research, and Teaching Professions / Arlene Bielefield and Lawrence Cheeseman
    Ref. KF3030.1 .B533 2007

Video on Copyright: