Copyright is a set of laws designed to protect original works of authorship in a tangible form of expression. These laws offer copyright owners’ protection over how their work is reused. The copyright owner retains the sole right to:
From Copyright Basics, Circular 1, U.S. Copyright Office, available online at http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ01.pdf
The public domain refers to those works that are not copyright protected and that can be used freely, without seeking permission. There are a number of ways a work may pass into the public domain, including the following, though you should always check carefully to determine that a particular work really is in the public domain before assuming that you may use it.
The Fair Use doctrine is often evoked whenever someone wants to use a copyright-protected work in an educational setting without the formal permission of the copyright owner. However, determining fair use is not so cut-and-dry: Section 107 of the copyright law lays out four factors that must be weighed in determining whether a situation can be classified as fair use:
|1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes.
|Non-profit educational use is the easiest to be covered under fair use; most universities and non-profit educational institutions can easily claim fair use for this reason.
|2. The nature of the copyrighted work.
|Factual or scientific materials tend to fit under fair use better than creative works such as fiction, poetry, plays, etc. The materials used in the health sciences environment tend to be more factual or scientific in nature.
|3. Amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.
|How much of a work are you using? Are you using an entire journal issue, a large portion of the book, most of the illustrations from an article or book? The greater the amount used, the less likely it is to be fair use.
|4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
|Can you easily purchase the copies that you need? Is this a consumable item such as a study guide that should not be reproduced? Are you repeatedly using something under fair use when you should be paying royalties?
Any determination of Fair Use must take all FOUR factors into consideration.
How often a work is used is NOT part of the copyright law, though some publishers believe you should seek permission or pay a royalty fee for repeated use fo copyrighted works. A safe practice is to seek permission for repeated use, especially if the use is over several years, though it is not stipulated by the copyright law.
Adapted from FL-102, June 1999, available online at http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html