Copyright Basics

  • As the number of web pages continues to grow at a phenomenal rate, it is essential that we use Internet material responsibly and respect the basics of copyright law.

    Copyright defined

    According to the US Copyright Office of the Library of Congress, copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U.S. Code) to the authors of "original works of authorship," including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. Titles, names, short phrases, slogans, logos, URL’s are not eligible for copyright protection.

    Rights to the owner

    A copyright owner is given rights to reproduce, distribute, adapt, publicly perform and display the original work. Copyright protection extends through the life of the creator plus 70 years.


    The US Copyright Office also offers a brief history of copyright from the enactment by Congress of the first federal copyright law in May 1790 to the provisions of the (TEACH) Act of 2002.

    Public domain

    Older materials or US government publications are considered to lie in the public domain and may not be subject to copyright restrictions. This material may be used without permission but the original source should still be credited.

    Copyright symbol

    The absence of a copyright symbol © does not indicate that material is without copyright restrictions. Most nations follow the Berne copyright convention recognizing works created after April 1, 1989 to be protected whether or not a copyright notice is present

    Fair Use

    The fair use doctrine allows certain materials to be used for nonprofit, educational purposes without fees or permission and balances the exclusive protection of copyright law. The 1976 Copyright Act put forth four criteria to determine fair use: purpose and character of the use, nature of the work, amount used and effect of the use on the work’s potential market value.

    Guidelines for educational multimedia

    A 1994 Conference on Fair Use (CONFU) developed guidelines to determine fair use portions of copyrighted works in educational multimedia projects:

    • Motion Media - Up to 10% or 3 minutes (whichever is less).
    • Text Material - Up to 10% or 1000 words (whichever is less).
    • Poem - An entire poem with less than 250 words, 3 poems by same author and 5 poems by different author.
    • Music, Lyrics, Music Video - Up to 10% of an individual work (no more than 30 seconds per event).
    • Illustrations and Photographs - Up to 5 images by an artist or photographer may be reproduced or incorporated. Up to 10% or 15 images (whichever is less) from a published collective work.
    • Numerical data sets - Up to 10% or 2500 fields or cell entries (whichever is less) from a copyrighted data table may be incorporated.
    Permission to use copyrighted material

    In order to use an excerpt from an Internet document, you should list the source according to accepted bibliographic citation practice. However, acknowledging the source of copyright does not substitute for requesting permission to use an entire work or material not covered by the fair use guidelines. You should email the author of Internet material and include the following information:

    • Your name and email address
    • Request permission to use copyrighted work
    • Identify the group to which Internet material will be distributed
    • Explain how you will use material and how much you will use
    • Indicate how many copies you wish to distribute

    You will usually receive a favorable reply to your request but do not assume that no reply equals permission.

    • Keep received permission on file.
    • Place a notice at the bottom of page or project crediting the original author, noting that you received permission on a particular date.
    • Include the URL of the original source.
    • It is acceptable for a student to incorporate an approved portion of copyrighted material into a written or multimedia report or PowerPoint presentation. Such material should not be posted on a web site or included in a publication.
    • Plagiarism teaching resources are provided by the Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue University.
    • Copyright is federal law. Violators can be fined and penalized.
    Additional information

    View LHS Cheating Pamphlet.

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