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OER & Textbook Affordability at GCC

What is copyright?

When an author, speaker, or artist creates a work, such as a book, essay, film, sculpture, sound recording, or painting, they have certain exclusive rights to that work, including making copies, selling the work, giving it away for free, and licensing copies of the work for others to sell. This is known as copyright.

Purpose of copyright

Copyrights and patents are provided for in Article I Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, and their purpose is “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.” Copyright is meant to encourage creativity and productivity—creators can profit from their work, and so have the incentive to create things and share them with others.

How to obtain copyright

In the U.S. under current copyright law, creators own the copyright to their work as soon as they put it in a fixed and tangible form (i.e. draw it on their computer, write it on paper, film it, etc.)—they do not have to register with the U.S. Copyright Office in order to own copyright to their works. However, creators can still register their copyright with the Copyright Office if they would like to, and works must be registered with the Copyright Office in order to defend their copyright in federal court.

Length of copyright

Copyright doesn’t last forever. For works created now, copyright lasts for the duration of the author’s life plus an additional 70 years. If the work is considered work for hire (for example, a graphic designer that designs brochures for a company), the work will have a copyright term of 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from the date of creation, whichever expires first.

Copyright readings

What is public domain?

After copyright ends, the works enter the public domain, and are collectively owned by all of us. As of January 1, 2020, all works published prior to 1925 are in the public domain.

This means we can all make copies, sell versions, make our own adaptations (like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), and do anything else we want to do with works in the public domain. Authors can also choose to release their works directly into the public domain, foregoing their copyright and allowing immediate public ownership of their creation.

U.S. government works

Works created by employees of the U.S. federal government in an official capacity are automatically in the public domain. This includes images from NASA, the text of all laws and court decisions, presidential speeches, photographs taken by military personnel, and many more. There are exceptions to this, including departmental logos. Check out USA.gov's Copyright Exceptions for U.S. Government Works for more details.

Changes in public domain

Note that copyright didn’t always last as long as as it does now. The Copyright Act of 1790 allowed authors a fourteen-year copyright term for each work with the option for an additional fourteen-year extension. As the Association of Research Libraries writes, “The law was meant to provide an incentive to authors, artists, and scientists to create original works by providing creators with a monopoly. At the same time, the monopoly was limited in order to stimulate creativity and the advancement of ‘science and the useful arts’ through wide public access to works in the ‘public domain.’” Copyright law was therefore designed as a balance between 1) giving creators enough of an incentive to create works and 2) allowing others access to freely share and build off the works.

Since copyright law has undergone many revisions since 1790, many additional works published after 1925 are also in the public domain. However, it can be a little complicated to determine which works published after 1925 are in the public domain. See Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States for details.

How can copyrighted works be made available?

Let’s take the case of a book.

  • A book can be printed and the copies can be sold to individuals or organizations (such as libraries).
  • A book can be made into a digital file and sold, rented, or added to a subscription collection (like a library database).
  • A chapter from a book can be excerpted and included in a reader, and then that reader can be sold or rented to users.
  • The rights to copy and distribute a chapter from the book could be paid for through an organization like the Copyright Clearance Center
  • The author can give permission to make copies of their book without paying for the copies. They can do this in two ways:
    • give this permission directly to an individual or organization, or
    • include a public license on their book, like a Creative Commons license, that gives everyone blanket permission to make free copies of their book. This licensing is what makes OER possible.
  • The user determines that copying without permission is fair use.

Creative Commons licenses

Creators can choose to share their works under an open license. The most widely used licenses are Creative Commons.

Creative Commons has defined six licenses for your use, illustrated below. Read About CC Licenses to learn more.

Spectrum of Creative Commons licenses, from least to most restrictive.

“Creative Commons License Spectrum” by Shaddim (CC BY)

Creators do not have to apply for or register open licenses. All you need to do is mark your work with a license.

Choose a license

Fair Use

There are several limitations or exceptions to the exclusive rights of copyright holders, and one of those limitations is fair use. Fair use is defined in Section 107 of the Copyright Act as follows:

107. Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;

(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

As you can see, fair use is designed to support dissemination and creation of information by allowing selections from copyrighted work to be used for free in some situations, including for educational purposes. However, the use must be weighed under the four criteria defined in the law in order to be considered fair. For most fair use determinations, there will be criteria that weigh towards fair use and criteria that weigh against it. Though an individual may be able to make a considered case that a certain use is fair, only a judge can determine fair use.

For an in-depth framework you can use to weigh each criterion, check out UMN Libraries’ Thinking Through Fair Use Checklist.

Also, be aware that the District has created guidelines for use of copyrighted materials. Please refer to the following for more information:

What happens if I violate copyright?

The owner of a copyrighted work can sue individuals or organizations who allegedly violated the terms of the copyright. If the court finds that copyright was violated, the copyright owner can be awarded a restraining order or injunction to prevent further copyright violations by the individual or organization, as well as money damages and even attorney fees (i.e. the cost of suing you for copyright violation).

Related documents

Best Practices for Teaching with Copyrighted Resources

TYPE FACE TO FACE ONLINE
Article

If the Library has an electronic version of the article, use a permanent link to the article (eg. in your Canvas course and/or your syllabus).

If the article is available legally on the web, link to the article.

If not, you will need to conduct a fair use analysis before scanning or copying the article for your class.

If the Library has an electronic version of the article, use a permanent link to the article (eg. in your Canvas course and/or your syllabus).

If the article is available legally on the web, link to the article.

If not, you will need to conduct a fair use analysis before scanning or copying the article for your class.

Chapter from a book

Place print copy of a book on reserve at the library.

If the Library has the ebook, put a permanent link to the ebook in your readings list.

If not, you will need to conduct a fair use analysis before scanning or copying the chapter for your class.

If the Library has the ebook, put a permanent link to the ebook in your Canvas course.

If not, you will need to conduct a fair use analysis before scanning or copying the chapter for your class.

YouTube Linking to a YouTube video is permitted.  If embedding code is provided, it is fine to embed. Be sure to attribute the creator. Avoid any video that you suspect is not a legal copy, not least because it could be taken down by YouTube at any time. Linking to a YouTube video is permitted.  If embedding code is provided, it is fine to embed. Be sure to attribute the creator. Avoid any video that you suspect is not a legal copy, not least because it could be taken down by YouTube at any time.
DVD The Classroom exception permits you to show DVDs without limitation, provided that the DVD is legally made and acquired.

Streaming a DVD in an online class will need to be permitted by the TEACH Act or be a fair use.  The TEACH Act specifically forbids copying an entire DVD.  Fair use could conceivably permit it but a very rigorous analysis and justification would need to be provided.

Portions necessary to serve your pedagogical purpose may be streamed to students. You will need to think through your purposes for including the content from the DVD and limit your use to only the necessary portions.  

DVDs can also be converted and captioned to accommodate a disability.

The TEACH Act specifically allows:

"The performance of a nondramatic literary or musical work or reasonable and limited portions of any other work”; the DVD must be a legal copy and the content cannot be mediated educational programming.

as long as

“The performance or display is made by, at the direction of, or under the actual supervision of an instructor as an integral part of a class session offered as a regular part of the systematic mediated instructional activities.“

Streaming from Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, etc. No.  Generally subscription streaming services' Terms of Use specify personal use only. Students must use their own personal subscriptions to these services. 
Images

Showing legally acquired images in the classroom is permitted.  If you post a slide deck to Canvas, consider removing any copyrighted material unless you have done a fair use analysis and determined that it is likely to be fair.

Consider using the Library's licensed content or Creative Commons licensed content from the web.  

Creative Commons licensed, public domain, or library-licensed material can be used.  

Otherwise, you will need to conduct a fair use analysis.
 

Figures, charts, graphs Permissible to use, with attribution.   Permissible to use, with attribution.  If the chart or graph is creative in its display of information (as opposed to something that anyone could reproduce exactly given the same data), conduct a fair use analysis.
Music from a CD Okay to use. See "DVD" above.  
Live music performance Yes, permitted by the classroom exemption. N/A
Sending content via email It is better to send a link than to send an attachment.  Much of the details listed above for posting things online will be similar with email but posting online on Canvas will make any fair use argument stronger. It is better to send a link than to send an attachment.  Much of the details listed above for posting things online will be similar with email but posting online on Canvas will make any fair use argument stronger.
Student work Get permission from the student in writing and keep that documentation.  Both copyright and FERPA apply. Get permission from the student in writing and keep that documentation.  Both copyright and FERPA apply.

"Best Practices for Teaching with Copyrighted Resources" adapted from Copyright Resources from Portland Community College (Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license).

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