Copyright Basics

Title 17 of the United States Code is the foundation for our copyright law and, with few exceptions (e.g., DMCA,  TEACH Act) remains largely unchanged since it was passed in 1976.

Copyright is a form of legal protection that allows authors, photographers, composers, and other creators to control some reproduction and distribution of their work.

In general, copyright holders have the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to do the following

  • Reproduce the work in whole or in part
  • Prepare derivative works, such as translations, dramatizations, and musical arrangements
  • Distribute copies of the work by sale, gift, rental, or loan
  • Publicly perform the work
  • Publicly display the work

These rights have exceptions and limitations, including the "fair use" provisions which allow certain uses without permission of the copyright holder. 

What is protected by copyright?
Copyright protects literature, music, painting, photography, dance, and other forms of creative expression. In order to be protected by copyright, a work must be:

    Original: A work must be created independently and not copied.
    Creative: There must be some minimal degree of creativity involved in making the work.
    A work of authorship: This includes literary, musical, dramatic, choreographic, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, audiovisual, and architectural works.
    Fixed: The work must be "fixed in a tangible medium of expression" — written on a piece of paper, saved on a computer hard drive, or recorded on an audio or video tape.

What is not protected by copyright?
There are many things that are not protected by copyright, including:

  • Facts and ideas
  • Processes, methods, systems, and procedures
  • Titles
  • All works prepared by the United States Government
  • Constitutions and laws of State governments.
  • Materials that have passed into the public domain

Content adapted from “Copyright Basics,” University of Michigan Library (used under a Creative Commons license) and by permission from Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA.

TEACH Act (Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization Act, 2002)

The TEACH Act (Section 110(2)) allows educators to perform or display copyrighted works in distance education environments. If you would like to show a video or display an image during your online class, you may want to consider whether that use is allowable under the TEACH Act.

Benefits of the TEACH Act

  • Performances and displays of nearly all types of copyrighted works
  • Transmission of digital materials to students at distant education locations
  • Storage of copyrighted content for brief periods of time, such as that which occurs in the process of transmitting digital content
  • Creating digital versions of print or analog works

Requirements of the TEACH Act
In order to take advantage of these benefits, instructors and institutions must meet certain policy requirements specified by the TEACH Act. Reasonable measures to assure that only enrolled students will have access to materials during the course of instruction must be in place before TEACH exemptions can be made. Below is a list of requirements:

  • The teaching must occur at an accredited, nonprofit educational institution.
  • Only lawfully acquired copies may be used.
  • Use is limited to performances and displays. The TEACH Act does not apply to materials that are for students' independent use and retention, such as textbooks or readings.
  • Use of materials must be within the context of "mediated instructional activities" analogous to the activities of a face-to-face class session.
  • The materials to be used should not include those primarily marketed for the purposes of distance education (i.e. an electronic textbook or a multimedia tutorial).
  • Only those students enrolled in the class should have access to the material.
  • Reasonable efforts must be made to prevent students from distributing the material after viewing it.
  • If a digital version of the work is already available, then an analog copy cannot be converted for educational use.
  • Students must be informed that the materials they access are protected by copyright.
  • The educational institution must have a policy on the use of copyrighted materials and provide informative resources for faculty advising them on their rights.

The requirements for complying with the TEACH Act are numerous. As opportunities for applying the TEACH Act are limited in scope, consider applying the Fair Use test, or Conditions of Instructional Use when using copyrighted works in distance education settings.

TEACH Act Checklist - Content used by permission from Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA. Originally adapted from the University of Minnesota, used by permission.

DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act)

When Copyright Law was passed in 1976, the Internet did not exist. The context of the Internet and the increasing amount of digital content prompted Congress to pass the DMCA in 1998 to address copyright issues in the digital domain.

The DMCA does not protect service users! For this reason, it is imperative that students and faculty adhere to copyright law with regard to posting materials on the web and/or peer-to-peer file sharing.

Although the DMCA addresses a number of topics, the one most relevant for our purposes is Title II: ONLINE COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT LIABILITY LIMITATION which limits the liability of online service providers (OSP), such as Eastern University’s network system, for certain infringements provided that we “(1) adopt and reasonably implement a policy of terminating in appropriate circumstances the accounts of subscribers who are repeat infringers; and (2) accommodate and not interfere with ‘standard technical measures’ (i.e., measures that copyright owners use to identify or protect copyrighted works).’ (“The DMCA of 1998,” U.S. Copyright Office); (3) designate and register a copyright agent who can be contacted for alleged infringements.

In addition, the following stipulations apply:

  • "Conduit activities" that are largely automatic activities of computers connected to the Internet and for which there is no explicit requirement to register an agent to obtain the law's protections:
  • transmitting or routing material through a system or network controlled by or for the service provider;
  • providing connections for material through such a system or network;
  • intermediate and transient storage of that material in the course of transmitting, routing or providing connections
  • intermediate and temporary storage of material on a system or network controlled or operated by or for the service provider ("system caching")
  • Long-term storage of information on the service provider's system or network, for which you must register an agent to obtain the law's protections:
  • storage at the direction of a user of material that resides on a system or network controlled or operated by or for the service provider
  • referring or linking users to an online location containing infringing material or infringing activity, by using information location tools, including a directory, index, reference, pointer, or hypertext link
  • Taking material down based on an allegation of infringement or knowledge of facts or circumstances from which infringement is apparent or putting it back up based on as assertion of misidentification or mistake on the complainant's part.

Content adapted by Liberty University from “Copyright in the Library,”  University of Texas System. Used under a Created Commons license. Used with permission from Liberty University.