The information presented here is intended for informational purposes and should not be construed as legal advice. If you have specific legal questions pertaining to SPU, please contact the Office of Planning and Administration.
Content in this guide has been reused with permission from Dr. Michael Stoller of New York University Libraries. The original guide is available at http://guides.nyu.edu/content.php?pid=375551&sid=3076091.
Welcome! This guide provides information and resources on copyright law and how it relates to academic activities such as research, teaching, and publication.
Below is a basic introduction to U.S. copyright law -- what it protects, how long it lasts, the rights it grants to authors, and its exceptions and limitations.
Other parts of this guide provide further information on:
SPU Faculty and Staff should first consult the statement on Use of Copyrighted Materials (§ 12.4) in the Faculty Handbook.
For better or worse, copyright law affects numerous aspects of academic life -- if you don't find the answers you need here, please contact us!
Copyright is a form of legal protection that provides authors of original creative works with limited control over the reproduction and distribution of their work. It gives copyright holders a set of exclusive rights to
These rights are subject to exceptions and limitations, such as "fair use," which allows limited uses of works without the permission of the copyright holder.
Copyright protects "original works of authorship." To be copyrightable, a work must be created by the author rather than copied, and must involve some minimal degree of creativity. It must also be "fixed in [a] tangible medium," meaning that it must in some sense be recorded, such as on paper, in a computer file, on a DVD, etc.
Types of works protected by copyright include:
What is not protected by copyright?
In most cases, the author or creator of the work is the initial copyright holder. If the work is created as part of a person's employment, it may be a "work for hire," meaning that the employer is instead the copyright holder. In the university setting, faculty writings and other "traditional works of scholarship" are typically not considered to be works for hire.
If two or more people together create a work, they are joint holders of the copyright. Joint owners each have an equal right to exercise and enforce the copyright.
Copyright can be transferred from the original author to another person or entity through a signed, written agreement. Publishing agreements often involve a transfer of copyright, where the publisher becomes the rights holder, rather than the author.
Under U.S. law, works are protected by copyright automatically at the time of their creation. You are not required to put a copyright notice on the work (e.g. (c) 2014 Seattle Pacific University), to register with work with the U.S. Copyright Office, or to publish the work.
Although providing a copyright notice is not legally required, it can be a good idea to include one anyway if you are making your work publicly available. A copyright notice should provide a way for people who want to use your work to contact you, such as: "(c) 2014 [name]. For permissions and questions contact [address/email]."
Under current U.S. law, copyright lasts until 70 years after the death of the author. For works made for hire, the copyright term is either 95 years from the date of publication, or 120 years from the date of creation, whichever is shorter.
After the copyright term expires, works pass into the public domain, meaning that anyone is free to reproduce, distribute, or otherwise re-use the work.
Determining whether older works are still protected by copyright can be a complex undertaking. Depending upon when a work was created, it is subject to different requirements regarding copyright notice and registration, as well as different copyright terms. For example, before 1978 U.S. law required that works be published with a notice of copyright to receive protection. Failure to comply with this requirement would result in the work being in the public domain.
Copyright Term and the Public Domain, a guide to copyright duration created by Peter Hirtle at Cornell University, is a comprehensive and useful resource for researching a work's copyright status.
The University of California at Berkeley Law School's Samuelson Clinic has also produced a very helpful guide to determining whether a particular work is in the public domain. Please see it at: Is it in the Public Domain? and the Accompanying visuals. These educational tools help users to evaluate the copyright status of a work created in the United States between January 1, 1923 and December 31, 1977—those works that were created before today's 1976 Copyright Act. Many important works—from archival materials to family photos and movies—were created during this time, and it can be difficult to tell whether they are still under copyright.
You can walk through a step-by-step process to determine if the work is copyrighted, if there is an exception or license that covers your use, how to determine if fair use applies, and if you need to request permission. Created by Kevin Smith, Lisa Macklin, and Anne Gilliland who all are librarians and lawyers, "A Framework for Analyzing any Copyright Problem" is a useful document to walk you through the process one step at a time.