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U.S. Copyright Law

Links to the text of the U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17 U.S. Code)

Copyright Terms and the Public Domain

U.S. Copyright Law offers copyright owners a set of exclusive rights to their works for a limited period of time. Some materials are in the public domain, which means the copyright term has expired or never existed and the intellectual property is not owned or controlled by any person or entity. Materials in the public domain can be used freely, although they need to be properly cited. 

Fair Use

Fair use, Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law, allows users of copyrighted works the right to exercise without permission some of the rights normally reserved for copyright owners. This concept is used as a defense in U.S. Courts. Determining what might be considered a fair use in court can be an uncertain process, but these tools can assist you in assessing your use of a copyrighted work.

The TEACH Act and Other Exceptions for Instructors

The TEACH Act, 17 U.S. Code § 110 (2), was signed into law in 2002. It expands the scope of educators' rights to perform and display works and to make the copies integral to such performances and displays for digital distance education, making the rights closer to those we have in face-to-face teaching. This TEACH Act Requirements Checklist can guide decisions on copyright compliance for courses.  If a specific use of a copyright-protected work does not fit within the TEACH Act, the use of the work may fall within Fair Use, or permission to use the work must be obtained from the copyright owner.

The TEACH Act covers media an instructor would show or play during class such as movie or music clips, images of artworks in an art history class, or a poetry reading. The rights granted DO NOT extend to the use of:

  1. works primarily produced or marketed for in-class use in the digital distance education market
  2. works the instructor knows or has reason to believe were not lawfully made or acquired
  3. textbooks, coursepacks, and other materials typically purchased by students individually.

Identifying and Locating Copyright Owners

These sites outline tools and techniques for identifying and contacting copyright owners.

Obtaining Permissions

Orphan Works

"Orphan works" is a term used to describe works still under copyright for which the copyright owner cannot be identified, located, or contacted in order to ask for permission to use the work. The decision to use an orphan work without permission is a risk.  The sites below can help you assess that risk.

Copyright Resources from other Universities

Copyright Best Practices Documents