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Copyright Officer & FAQs

What is protected by copyright?

The vast majority of creative and intellectual work is protected by copyright. Even your grocery shopping list is — copyright protection is automatic.

Copyright is Complicated and Lasts a Long Time

Your shopping list is technically protected until you die, plus 70 years! There are slightly different rules if works are made for hire or unpublished, plus U.S. laws changed significantly in 1976. So…you often have to figure out what iteration of the law a work falls under. This copyright slider can help you determine if a work is protected or you can consult The Copyright Genie.

But We Have the Public Domain…

The public domain is where works with expired or no copyright protection go to retire. These works are available to be used however you like. To be clear, everything on the internet is not in the public domain, but these things are:

  • Works published before 1925*
  • Ideas, facts, and methods
  • Federal U.S. government publications (except those written by contractors)
  • Works placed in the public domain by the copyright holder
  • Unpublished works by creators who died 70+ years ago
  • Unpublished works by unknown/anonymous creators that were created 120+ years ago

*There are exceptions to this rule. Orphan works (where the rights holder cannot be determined) are protected. There are also some works with perpetual copyright, such as Mickey Mouse.

…and Creative Commons

With Creative Commons, copyright holders can tell the world how their materials may be used while retaining their intellectual property. CC licensing has four parameters: attribution, derivation, commercial-use, and sharing alike. Creative Commons licensed materials include things like textbooks, images, and videos and there are websites dedicated to them (CC Search, for example).

Partially adapted from Copyright Basics by Portland Community College

Can I post PDFs of articles in my online classroom?

Before considering uploading a PDF and posting it for your students, please check if the item is available through library subscriptions.

The easiest route for sharing materials is to use a Library permalink. We have detailed guides on how to create permalinks to articles, ebooks and other materials from various library resources:

If we do not have the item available, you may post PDFs of materials if any of the following are true:

  • You own the copyright on the material.
  • Your use is a fair use*.
  • Your use conforms with the requirements of the TEACH Act. The TEACH Act is quite complex, but there are helpful basic checklists.
  • You have permission from the copyright holder.

*CGCS takes a conservative approach and generally does not exercise fair use for entire PDFs due to the nature of their course frequency.

Can I link to things posted on the web from my online classroom?

Linking is generally fair game and frequently serves a way to address some of the fair use risk concerns with materials found openly on the web.

I want to link to a specific page on a website.

If you are linking beyond the homepage of a website, it is good practice to check if the website has any restrictions on deep linking.

Linking policies can usually be found in a site’s Terms of Use. You might find linking is encouraged under certain parameters (NPR is a good example) or it may require asking permission. In rare cases, linking may be prohibited.

If the website is commercial and does not have a distinct policy on deep linking, it is also wise to ask.

I want to link to a PDF uploaded on a website.

Linking to PDFs found on the web is a strong alternative to making a fair use determination on downloading and distribution. PDFs uploaded in institutional repositories, available in open access journals or written by the government are great options!

PDFs that do not appear to be lawfully posted on the web may not be the best things to link to, though. Whether or not materials posted on the web are infringing on copyright is very hard to discern*. If material is infringing, there is high likelihood it will be taken down (especially things on sites like Scribd). If you are uncertain and do not want to risk content disappearing, err on the side of caution and do not use it.

*Can you tell for certain who posted the item? And can you tell for certain that they did not have the rights to do so?

More Help

Stanford University Libraries – Copyright and Fair Use: Connecting to Other Websites 

What are the rules with government publications?

Works created by the United States federal government are not subject to copyright law and are in the public domain. You are free to post, copy and distribute government publications to your heart’s content.

There Are a Few Caveats

  • This only pertains to federal government publications. State and local governments may claim copyright on their publications, while others may choose to put them in the public domain.
  • Copyright law defines a work of the government as one “prepared by an officer or employee…as part of that person’s official duties.”* Any government publications written by contractors may be protected depending on the conditions of the contract.
  • Other countries have their own rules and there is no international copyright law.

When in doubt, remember you can still link to the material.

*Copyright Law of the United States of America – Chapter 1

How am I allowed to use images I find on the web?

The vast majority of creative and intellectual work is protected by copyright — this includes images. Images that come up in a Google Search, for instance, are more than likely copyright protected.

This is an area of particular flexibility and there are lots options for your online courses and presentations:

What am I allowed to do with films the library owns?

Can I have a VHS converted to a DVD to show in my class?

It is completely understandable that you probably prefer a DVD over a VHS. However, when only a VHS is available in the library, the copyright law around converting a VHS to a DVD is quite complex. Please review the information below and contact the Intellectual Property/Copyright Committee Chair if you would like to discuss your particular scenario.

I want to show a film in my class and DVD is easier than VHS.

We do not disagree! Unfortunately the law does not allow VHSs to be converted simply because they are no longer the preferred format. Section 108(c) of U.S. Copyright Law allows libraries and archives to create reproductions if a media format is obsolete. Since VHSs and VHS players can still be purchased, it is not considered an obsolete format.

So…what can I do then?

You have a few options.

  • See about borrowing a VHS player from ITS, your department or the library.
  • Ask your liaison librarian to purchase a DVD copy for you if it is available. We will gladly purchase a DVD replacement if it is reasonably available.
  • If a DVD copy is not available, you can ask the copyright holder for permission to convert the VHS to DVD. The request should be very specific to make sure the use is properly covered. We are happy to help with this.
  • A conversion from VHS to DVD may qualify as Fair Use, particularly if you are only using a portion of the work.

The quality of the VHS is deteriorating. Does that make a difference?

Maybe. The first step will still be to see about purchasing either a DVD copy or a new VHS. If after a reasonable effort an unused replacement cannot be found at a fair price, the VHS can be converted to DVD. However, per Section 108(c), it must not the leave the library. To use it for class, it would need to be put on reserve as in library use only.