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Copyright: Copyright

Copyright Basics

Copyright is designed...“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.” (U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8, Clause 8)

Copyright covers "original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression."
Copyright protection is automatic from the moment of creation; registration is not required.

Not covered: ideas, procedures, processes, systems, methods of operation, concepts, principles, discoveries, recipes.
(Copyright Law of the US)

The exclusive rights of a copyright holder are... 

  1. To reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords
  2. To prepare derivative works
  3. To distribute copies or phonorecords to the public by sale, or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease or lending.
  4. In case of literary, musical or dramatic or choreographic works, pantomimes, and  motion pictures or other audiovisual works, to perform the copyrighted work publicly
  5. In case of literary, musical or dramatic or choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictoral, graphic or sculptural works, including individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to display the copyrighted work
  6. In the case of sound recordings, to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission

The copyright law identifies some specific exemptions to these exclusive rights and also outlines principles of "fair use" of copyrighted materials.

The term of copyright, the "limited time" of protection, can be quite long. 
For works created after Jan. 1, 1978, copyright lasts for 70 years after the author's death.
For more detail see the chart, Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States.

Penalties of Infringement

Penalties for civil copyright infringement may include either actual damages or statutory damages from $750 to $30,000 per work infringed. "Willful" infringement may carry a penalty of up to $150,000 per work infringed. A court can also assess costs and attorneys' fees.

Willful copyright infringement can also result in criminal penalties, including imprisonment of up to five years and fines of up to $250,000 for each offense. For more detail, see Chapter 5 of the Copyright Law and the Justice Manual from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Violation of the University of Missouri Acceptable Use Policy may result in a denial of access to University information technology resources, and other disciplinary actions.

The Department of IT is the University's designated agent for handling complaints under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). If they receive a complaint of possible infringement, they must disable or block access to the copyrighted materials and contact the possible infringer. See their policy for addressing these issues.

Copyright Decision Flow-chart

First, is the work you want to use covered by copyright?

  • Copyright covers "original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression."
    Copyright protection is automatic from the moment of creation; registration is not required.

    Student work, class notes, YouTube videos, websites, personal letters, email, diagrams, and many other things are all covered by copyright.

  • Is the work in the public domain? Most federal government publications and other works created prior to 1924 are in the public domain and may be freely used. Works created between 1924 and 1989 may be in the public domain, but require more investigation.
  • Is the work available by license? License agreements may be more or less restrictive than copyright.
    • Check to see if the work you wish to use is covered by a Creative Commons license.
    • Online resources (databases, books, journals) provided by the University libraries may be licensed to employees and students of a specific campus. They may not be generally available.
    • Check to see if the copyrighted resources you wish to use are or could be licensed by your department.
    • Check with University General Counsel to see if a blanket performance license covers your proposed use. This usually pertains to the live performance of music or drama.

Second, is there a specific legal exemption to copyright law that would allow you to use the work?

  • Section 110(1) covers classroom performance and display, (but not copying or distribution), in a space dedicated to instruction.
  • Section 110(2) (revised by the TEACH Act) covers online performance and display, but requires that the course be systematic and mediated, access limited to specific students for a limited time.

Third, conduct a Fair Use analysis.

Educational purpose alone does not make a use "fair". Consider all four factors described in Section 107 of the law.

Finally, if none of the above applies, seek permission, which may involve paying royalties.


Nothing on this guide is to be construed as legal advice. These pages are intended to provide information and guidance in the application of copyright law and to expand on the University of Missouri System Collected Rules and Regulations.

Thanks to Miller Nichols Library of UMKC for permission to reuse material from their Copyright guide.