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Copyright Information: Overview

What is copyright?

Copyright is a federal law that grants creators of original works of authorship or artistic works some exclusive rights regarding their creations.  Creators have the right to:

  • Reproduce/make copies
  • Disribute/publish
  • Make derivative works/adaptions
  • Display publicly
  • Perform publicly
  • Perform by means of audio digital transmission (sound recordings)

This means that only the copyright holder can exercise these rights.  In order to do things like photocopy a journal article or book chapter (from either a print or electronic source) to distribute in class, scan an article or book chapter to place in Sakai, or create a course pack from material found in print sources or online, a permission or clearance from the copyright holder MAY be needed.

Bear in mind that these rights can, and often are, sold or transferred, either as a bundle or individually.  The original author can be the rights holder, but, in many cases, it is the publisher that holds these rights. 

How do I know if I need permission?

Permission is not needed when: Permission may be needed when:
Work can be linked to
  • Post direct links to Library content
  • Post direct links to online content 
   Posting the full text of non-licensed, copyrighted works in Sakai 
Work is published with a Creative Commons license
  •  Some terms of use will apply.
   Photocopying book chapters or articles for class distribution
Work is in the Public Domain
  • As of January 1, 2023, most works that were published prior to 1928. 
  Incorporating copyrighted material (text, images, charts, diagrams into newly created works
Work is produced by the U.S. Federal Government  
Use of the work is considered a fair use
  • See the Fair Use tab of this guide for help in determining a fair use

How do I know if something is copyright protected?

  • Copyright protection is secured automatically from the moment an original work is created and fixed to a tangible medium. 
  • Material freely viewable on the internet has the same copyright protection as does printed information.
  • Registration is no longer required and it is not necessary for the copyright symbol to be displayed on the work.
  • Publication is not a requirement to ensure copyright protection.  Unpublished works are covered, as well.
  • Works currently in the Public Domain are no longer copyright protected.
  • Copyright law does not protect facts, ideas, titles of books or movies, processes or procedures, systems or methods of operation, discoveries, or works of the U.S. federal government.

For help determining the copyright status of a work see this chart developed by Cornell University or Circular 15A, Duration of Copyright, from the U.S. Copyright Office.

We're here to help

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Beth Miller
Head of Technical Services Librarian
Washington & Jefferson College
Clark Family Library
60 S. Lincoln Ave.
Washington, PA 15301

Library support for faculty

LibGuides designed to address additional copyright needs:

Learn more about copyright