Introduction to Copyright Law

The basic terms of use that apply to works of original authorship are established by copyright law. With these terms, certain exclusive rights are given to the copyright holder, while also recognizing certain rights that allow for use without the need for permission.

Prior to beginning your thesis or dissertation, it is imperative that you as a graduate student understand the basic elements of copyright law. Your first publication will likely raise a number of copyright questions, both for you as an author and as a user of information resources. Knowledge of the basics will help you avoid mistakes, establish a familiarity with the academic publishing landscape, and will allow you to more effectively share your own research (Crews, 2013).

Learning Objectives

At the conclusion of this chapter, you will be able to:

  • Explain the purpose of copyright
  • Identify what is copyrightable and what is not
  • Summarize the relationship between copyright and other methods of protecting intellectual property
  • Describe important copyright considerations as they pertain to graduate students

Copyright Basics

Review the drop-down options below to learn what is copyrightable, as well as who controls the rights and can grant permission to reuse a copyrighted work.

 

This table is an adaptation of Copyright Basics (on Creative Commons Certificate for Educators, Academic Librarians and GLAM) from Creative Commons, and is used under a CC BY 4.0 license.

Public Domain

Public domain refers to works not protected by intellectual property laws, such as copyright, trademark, or patent. Instead, these works belong to the public to be used without obtaining permission. There are some caveats, such as collective works, for example. This means, if someone has organized a collection of public domain materials, someone could use an individual image, but copying the entire collection would infringe on what is called “collective works” copyright.

Here are four common ways that works arrive in the public domain:

  • expired copyright
  • the copyright owner failed to follow renewal rules for copyright
  • the work was deliberately placed in the public domain, i.e. dedication
  • the type of work is not protected by copyright law

As mentioned above, copyright protections last a significant amount of time. A recent well-known example of copyright protections lapsing into the public domain is A.A. Milne’s original Winnie-the-Pooh story, which was first published in 1926. With this story entering the public domain, anyone is now free to publish their own adaptations of Milne’s original characters. That being said, Disney’s interpretations and unique character designs are still protected.

 

Public Domain Status by Year Published

Determining whether a work is in the public domain can be tricky due to complex laws and numerous changes over the years. This chart contains some rules of thumb that will help you confirm the copyright status of a work if you know when the work was created or published.

1. If the work was published in the United States prior to 1927, it is in the public domain.
2. For works published between 1927 and March 1, 1989, it depends on whether the certain statutory formalities were observed, such as providing a notice of copyright or following proper procedure for renewing the copyright. See examples a, b, and c, below, or the Circular 22, “How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work” (pdf) from the U.S. Copyright Office.
a. If the work was published in the United States between 1927 and 1978 without a notice, it is in the public domain. (Note: If the work published during this period has a notice, it may be protected for 95 years from the date of publication.) b. If the work was published in the United States between 1978 and March 1, 1989 without a notice and was not registered within the next five years, it is in the public domain. (Note: If the work published during this period has no notice, but was registered, it is protected for 70 years from the death of the author.) c. If the work was published in the United States between 1927 and 1963 with a notice, but copyright was not renewed, it is in the public domain.
3. After March 1, 1989, all works (published and unpublished) are protected for 70 years from the date the author dies. So, for example, the unpublished works of an author who died in 1943 are in the public domain as of January 1, 2014. For works of corporate authorship (works made for hire), the copyright term is the shorter of 95 years from publication, or 120 years from creation.
This table is an adaptation of the Copyright status rules of thumb table (on Public Domain) from the University of California, and is used under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license.

Fair Use

According to the United States Copyright Office (2021), the fair use doctrine promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances that are considered fair, including criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.

Section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law provides four factors to consider when considering whether the use of copyrighted works is a fair one:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work (e.g., whether it is factual or creative in nature)
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

It is important to note that the distinction between what is fair use and what is infringement is not always easy to determine. There is not a specific number of words, lines, or notes that allow someone to safely use copyrighted works without permission. Acknowledging the source of copyrighted works is not a substitution for obtaining permission.

For information on educational guidelines on fair use, visit: https://fairuse.stanford.edu/overview/academic-and-educational-permissions/proposed-fair-use-guidelines/

Creative Commons

In some cases, copyright holders are open to others using their work, as long as certain conditions are met. Creative Commons is built upon copyright and extends options for copyright holders to share their work. By placing a Creative Commmons license on their work, the creator can easily describe the terms of using, modifying, and sharing their work. This removes the hassle of others having to ask the creator for permission.

License Descriptions

imageCC BYThis license allows reusers to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format, so long as attribution is given to the creator. The license allows for commercial use.

image

CC BY-SA: This license allows reusers to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format, so long as attribution is given to the creator. The license allows for commercial use. If you remix, adapt, or build upon the material, you must license the modified material under identical terms.

image

CC BY-NC: This license allows reusers to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format for noncommercial purposes only, and only so long as attribution is given to the creator.

image

CC BY-NC-SA: This license allows reusers to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format for noncommercial purposes only, and only so long as attribution is given to the creator. If you remix, adapt, or build upon the material, you must license the modified material under identical terms.

image

CC BY-ND: This license allows reusers to copy and distribute the material in any medium or format in unadapted form only, and only so long as attribution is given to the creator. The license allows for commercial use.

imageCC BY-NC-ND: This license allows reusers to copy and distribute the material in any medium or format in unadapted form only, for noncommercial purposes only, and only so long as attribution is given to the creator.

For more on Creative Commons licenses, visit: https://creativecommons.org/

Creative Commons Examples

Open Access Journal Articles

Open Access (OA) means making research publications freely available so anyone can benefit from reading and using research. This movement also encourages public engagement with research, which is often publically funded. OA is an aspect of the larger ‘open’ movement, which encourages the free exchange of knowledge and broadens access to resources. Many open-access journals publish their articles with a Creative Commons license.

Example:

Bussell, H., Schnabel, J., & Rinehart, A. K. (2020). Meeting graduate student needs: An exploration of disciplinary differences. Public Services Quarterly, 16(4), 213-233. https://doi.org/10.1080/15228959.2020.1818663

The article above is licensed under Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0), which allows others to copy and redistribute, remix, transform, and build upon the material. As this is a noncommercial license, the article cannot be used for commercial purposes.

Today, about 28 percent of peer-reviewed articles are OA, and this number continues to increase (Piowowar et al., 2018). To find OA journals, consider using one of these tools:

  • Directory of Open Access Journals: “this independent database contains over 15 000 peer-reviewed open access journals covering all areas of science, technology, medicine, social sciences, arts and humanities.”
  • Elsevier Open Access: “All articles in open access journals which are published by Elsevier have undergone peer review and upon acceptance are immediately and permanently free for everyone to read and download.”
  • Open Access Journals: “This publisher hosts over 700+ leading-edge peer-reviewed Open Access Journals and organizes over 3000 International Conferences all over the world.”
  • Oxford Open Journals: “Oxford University Press (OUP) is mission-driven to facilitate the widest possible dissemination of high-quality research. We embrace both green and gold open access (OA) publishing to support this mission”
  • SpringerOpen: “The SpringerOpen portfolio has grown tremendously since its launch in 2010, so that we now offer researchers from all areas of science, technology, medicine, the humanities and social sciences a place to publish open access in journals.”

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, Paywall: The Business of Scholarship is a documentary that focuses on the need for OA to research and science:

SUNY Open Access Repository (SOAR)

The SUNY Open Access Repository (SOAR) is a centrally managed online digital repository that stores, indexes, and makes available scholarly and creative works of SUNY faculty, students, and staff across SUNY campuses. SOAR serves as an open access platform for those SUNY campuses that do not have their own open access repository environments.

Fredonia graduate students are encouraged to submit their master’s theses, projects, and creative activities to SOAR.

SOAR guidelines: https://soar.suny.edu/pages/SOAR_content_guidelines
State University of New York at Fredonia’s Open Access Policy: https://dspace.sunyconnect.suny.edu/handle/1951/71797

Images

Protesters and onlookers on Adelaide & Bay” by Kirill Levin is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 imageimageimageimage.

If the image above was not licensed openly with a Creative Commons license, embedding it on this page would not be permitted due to copyright restrictions. Again, this is something to think about as a creator and user of any type of work, academic or otherwise.

There are a number of ways to find images licensed openly. This might be helpful to think about when looking for presentation visuals. Here are a select few websites that have filtering options for Creative Commons licenses:

  • Openverse: Search through an extensive catalog of openly-licensed media. Over 600 million images and audio files are searchable through this tool. Even images from a variety of museum collections are included.
  • Flickr: This section of Flickr offers images that are available under a Creative Commons license and also explains the different types of Creative Commons licenses. You can also search for Creative Commons-licensed images on Flickr by going to the advanced search link in the upper right-hand corner of the page and checking the appropriate boxes in the Creative Commons section at the bottom of the advanced search page.
  • Google Images: While not all images on Google Images are Creative Commons licensed, it is possible to limit your search results to only images available under a Creative Commons license. First, conduct a search in the standard Google Image search bar. From the results page, click on search tools just below the search box. A drop-down menu will appear with usage rights as one of the options. From there, limit results as desired.
  • Wikimedia Commons: Search through images, sounds and videos. A majority of the media here has been uploaded by users for use on Wikipedia. Much of the content, however, is available under a Creative Commons license. Licensing information is provided at the bottom of each piece of media’s individual page.

Academic Integrity & Plagiarism

While both copyright and academic integrity address how intellectual property ought to be utilized in a research environment, their central focus differs. Academic integrity addresses ethical considerations as it pertains to academia. The Fredonia Academic Integrity Policy describes four types of academic dishonesty: plagiarism, cheating, collusion, and fraud.

  • Plagiarism refers to stealing the work of others and presenting it as one’s own (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary: Eleventh Edition, 2020).
  • Cheating is providing or receiving course material without permission from the instructor.
  • Collusion is collaboration on assignments or exams with a classmate without the permission of the instructor.
  • Fraud is defined as misrepresenting oneself or another person, and also falsifying official print or electronic documents.

Copyright, on the other hand, addresses the legal aspects of intellectual property. Even when Fair Use standards come into play, acknowledgment to the original creators must still be provided. Credit omission is the same as plagiarism or stealing. It is simple to prove that the works that were used were not stolen by appropriately giving credit. Although plagiarism is a distinct idea from intellectual property, it is possible for acts of plagiarism or academic dishonesty to violate copyright.

License

Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Fredonia Graduate Studies Research Toolkit Copyright © 2022 by Christina Hilburger is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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