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Basic Copyright Information

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a form of legal protection that allows authors and other creators to control their original, creative work.  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.  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.

What is protected by copyright?

Copyright protects literary, musical, dramatic, choreographic, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, audiovisual, and architectural works. 

How do works acquire copyright?

Copyright occurs automatically at the creation of a new work. You do not have to provide a copyright notice on your work to receive copyright protection. However, if you are making your work publicly available, it's a very good idea to include a copyright information, along with your contact information, so that people who want to re-use your work will be able to get in touch with you. A good copyright notice might look something like: "© 2008 J. Doe. For permissions and questions contact"

Is copyright forever?

For works created since March 1, 1989, copyright lasts from the moment a work is created until 70 years after the death of the author, except for works produced by a company/employer in which case the copyright lasts 120 years from the date of creation. Works created before this date can have various copyright protection. The Digital Copyright Slider can be used to help define how long the protection of an item may last.

Using Material for Your Course

Staying Legal: Steps for Reusing Materials in your Course

  1. Find something without copyright protection. Check to see if what you need or something comparable is in the public domain. If you find the work here you are free to use the content.
  2. Find something with an open or existing license. Check to see if what you need or something comparable has an existing license. Common instances in which materials have existing licenses include:
    • Library-licensed content. This includes databases, journals, ebooks, and streaming media to which the library subscribes. See Using Library-Licensed Materials below for more information.
    • Creative Commons licenses. Some creators mark their content with a Creative Commons license. Explore the Creative Commons website to learn more about CC licenses. You can Search the Commons to find relevant content on a number of search engines and websites.
    • End-User Agreements. Some streaming and online content providers specifically grant permission to use their materials in educational settings. For example, Netflix lists a small number of original documentaries that you may show in class (see the Films and Streaming Videos section below). Check the license or terms and conditions to see if the content you'd like to use has these permissions. 
  3. Search to see if it is covered by the CCC Academic Copyright License.
    • WJC Library subscribes to an annual Academic Copyright License from the Copyright Clearance Center. Publications covered under the license are eligible to use in your course. Please search for the title and make note of any special terms, for example, only 20% of a book may be used. 
  4. Determine if your use falls under an educational exemption:
    • Section 110(1): Exemption for face-to-face teaching, or;
    • Section 110(2) (also known as the TEACH Act): exemption for online distance education.
      • Beware that both Sections 110(1) and 110(2) are specifically for making copyrighted materials available to students enrolled in the course. Placing materials publicly online would not comply with these exemptions.
      • Section 110(1) and 110(2)/TEACH Act are specifically for displaying or performing copyrighted works during classroom sessions. If you expect students to use the material outside the classroom (i.e. on their own time or as homework), you should rely on fair use (Section 107) instead.
  5. If you cannot rely on Sections 110(1) or 110(2), check to see if your proposed use is a fair use. If you feel the evaluation of your use is fair then you are free to use the content, so long as it is a legal copy.
    • If you decide to make copyrighted materials available publicly online rather than only available to students officially enrolled in the course (e.g. through Canvas), then you will need to reevaluate fair use.
      • When the environment, such as where the materials will be made available, changes or the context of why you are sharing the materials changes (i.e. the first factor of fair use or the purpose of your use), your use must then be reevaluated.
    • Tools/Resources:
      • Fair Use Evaluator This tool helps you make a fair use evaluation and provides a PDF document of your evaluation for your records.
      • The Four Factors of Fair Use (pdf): outlines the four factors and gives examples about what is and is not in favor of fair use.
      • Summaries of Fair Use Cases: Understanding previous fair use cases will help you in understanding this principle.
  6. If necessary, request permission by contacting the library for assistance. 

Using Library-Licensed Materials

Using Library-Licensed Materials

If you are using library-licensed materials (i.e., journals, books, and other materials for which the library has a subscription) you should consider providing permalinks or citations of the specific resource rather than including PDFs or files in Canvas or Ares for students to download directly; this is beneficial for several reasons:

  1. Confidence that you are following copyright law. 
  2. Some of our licenses may not allow for uploading downloadable files in Canvas or Ares. No need to check if you use a permalink or citation.
  3. Usage statistics will increase, which lets the library know that the resource is being used. (When resources have low usage statistics, subscriptions have a greater chance of being cancelled).
  4. If you provide citations (with no links), students will better learn how to search and navigate the library databases for the specified resources.

Click here to view our guide about permalinks.

  • Harvard Business Review: The Harvard Business Review has a license agreement with EBSCO that explicitly restricts the inclusion of links to its articles in courses, such as through Canvas or in a syllabus. In other words, it is not permissible to link to HBR articles in your courses. The large majority of journals and publishers do not have such restrictions, but if there are restrictions such as this, they are usually communicated clearly on the journal or database. If you are assigning HBR materials contact the library so that we can purchase the content.

If you have specific questions about using copyrighted materials for your course, please do not hesitate to reach out to the library.

Films and Streaming Videos

It's streaming online, can I show it to my class?

No, with a few exceptions. 

Most terms and conditions or end-user license agreements, which you agree to when you create an account, specify that the account is only for your personal, non-commercial use. NetflixAmazon PrimeHulu, and other personal streaming vendors do not grant rights for institutional or educational use.

This is important because licenses overrule copyright exemptions. Showing your personal DVD during class is covered by a specific copyright exemption (Section 110), and showing clips can be covered by fair use (Section 107). However, streaming videos from personal subscription vendors in your classroom when the license prohibits such viewings? There is no copyright exemption for that and the situation is problematic.

What can I do? The library may be able to obtain streaming videos through institutional subscription vendors like Alexander Street Press,, Kanopy, and Swank. Contact us to see if the video is available on any of these platforms. If not, you must request that students subscribe to the streaming service to view the video.

Exception: Some vendors grant permission for a small number of titles to be shown in educational settings. For example, Netflix has granted permission for classroom use for several Netflix Original documentaries (see below).

Netflix and Educational Screening

Some Netflix Original educational documentaries are available for one-time educational screenings. To find out which titles are available for educational screenings, visit and search for the title or browse our recent and upcoming releases.

Additional Copyright Resources

Guide to Analyzing Any U.S. Copyright Problem
This is the detailed framework that outlines similar (above) easy-to-follow guidelines for solving any copyright problem with several tools and resources included. It was originally created by Kevin Smith and Lisa Macklin, who are both attorneys and copyright librarians, as a way to assist anyone in navigating where to begin regarding a "can I use it?" U.S. copyright problem. The guidelines have been adapted to better accommodate the K-State community.

Guide to Analyzing Any U.S. Copyright Problem - Infographic
This simplified infographic is a derivative of the (above) framework/guidelines that can help you analyze any copyright problem and guide you through an appropriate solution for your individual needs.

Copyright Genie The Copyright Genie will walk you through the steps to determine if a work is in copyright and, if it is, when it will enter the public domain.

Digital Copyright Slider From the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy, a visual and interactive way to figure out if something is under copyright.

Fair Use Evaluator This tool helps you make a fair use evaluation and provides a PDF document of your evaluation for your records. 

Interactive Guide to Using Copyrighted Media in Your Courses This interactive guide from Baruch College at the City University of New York helps faculty determine the appropriate guidelines to follow for using different types of media in face-to-face classes and online classes.

Copyright Renewals Database This is a database of copyright renewal records for US Class A (book) renewals received by the US Copyright Office between 1950 and 1992 for books published in the US between 1923 and 1963.

Copyright Term Calculator Use information on hand to determine whether or not a specific work is in the public domain. This calculator takes into account the potential restoration of copyright for items published outside of the U.S. due to Uruguay Round Agreements Act.

Catalog of Copyright Entries These PDF files can be used to find copyright renewal records for items that aren’t US Class A (books) renewals. Note: Copyright renewal had to occur sometime during the 28th year, however sometimes the Library of Congress could be slow in publishing said renewals. To maximize the search, look for the renewal records from the 27th to the 29th year.

Exceptions for Instructors eTool Guide This tool helps you determine if your intended use meets the requirements set out in the law and provides a PDF document for your records.

TEACH Act at the Copyright Crash Course Introduction to and explanation of the TEACH Act and how it may facilitate use of copyrighted works in the classroom. This site also includes a checklist to determine if a work qualifies.

Creative Commons License Tool Follow the steps to choose the appropriate Creative Commons license for your creative or scholarly work. 

Section 108 Spinner Use this spinner/tool to find out if the reproduction of a work is permissible under Section 108: Limitations on exclusive rights: Reproduction by libraries and archives. Public Catalog (1978-Present) This database shows records of all copyright registrations for all works dating from January 1, 1978, to the present, as well as renewals and recorded documents. Copyright Records (Pre-1978) This ongoing project presents records of copyright ownership from the United States Copyright Office for the period from July 1891 through December 1977.

This majority of this guide was republished and modified with the kind permission of the Kansas State University Center for the Advancement of Digital Scholarship. To check out some of their other great content on copyright and academic scholarship, please visit

Thanks goes to Tabitha Ochtera MLIS, Serials & Media Librarian at the James E. Tobin Library at Molloy College for the detailed content about Netflix and other streaming services, licensed under the CC BY (attribution) license. To view the original guide, visit