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Copyright Issues

Sept. 17, 2012

Baylor has an excellent Copyright Guidelines resource on its copyright website. Much more detailed information can be located on that website, but some of the basics will be set out here along with some of the common misconceptions about copyrights.

For a given work to have copyright protection, federal law provides that it must be original work and "fixed in a tangible medium of expression." Note the law requires that the work be fixed, and digital files are fixed just as well as printed materials. As soon as the original work is fixed, the copyright protection applies immediately and automatically to the work. The work must be original, which means it must be creative. Copyright does not apply to ideas, procedures, processes, systems, and concepts. Works of authorship include the following categories: literary works; musical works, including any accompanying words; dramatic works, including any accompanying music; pantomimes and choreographic works; pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works; motion pictures and other audiovisual works; sound recordings; and architectural works.

Copyright law gives the owner the right to control how and when the work will be used. The owner has the exclusive right to do the following and to allow others to also do the following: (a) reproduce the work in whole or in part; (b) distribute copies of the work to the public by sale, gift, rental, or loan; (c) perform the work (such as movies or music) in a public place or anywhere else in which a large number of people that are not family or friends are located or can see or hear it; (d) display the work (such as paintings, photographs, and sculptures) in a public place or anywhere else in which a large number of people that are not family or friends are located or can see it; and (e) make derivative works, such as translations, dramatizations, musical arrangements, and other adaptations from the work.

Common misconceptions about copyright law:

(1) "If it's on the internet, it's okay to copy." This is not necessarily true at all. In fact, the reason a work is on the internet may be because someone infringed on a copyright to put it there. The internet is not the same as the public domain. Cornell University provides up-to-date information on when materials go into the public domain.

(2) "If I'm not making money from it, it's okay to copy or display." While economic benefit is a factor in the fair use analysis, it's not the only factor. All four factors of the fair use analysis must be considered. The Copyright Guidelines cited above provide a helpful form for a fair use analysis.

(3) "If it's used in any way related to a school or university, then it's okay to copy or use the work under the education exemption." The education exemption is somewhat narrow and requires face-to-face classroom teaching. Others uses, even at a school or university, require either permission from the copyright owner or the user to be able to meet the fair use analysis.

(4) "If the author or creator of the work says it's okay to copy or use the work, then I'm in good shape." Not necessarily. The author may have transferred the copyright to the publisher; so you would have to get permission from the publisher.

(5) "If there is no © notice with the year on the work, then it's okay to copy or use the work." Not necessarily true. Copyright takes hold automatically when the work is fixed in a tangible medium of expression, and it does not matter whether the notice is on it or not. The formal notice is often used to let others know who owns the copyright. Some owners register the copyright in order to collect more damages in the event of infringement.

(6) "I bought the movie (or book, CD, etc); so I can do whatever I want with it." You own the movie but not the copyright to the movie. Therefore, your uses must not violate the rights of the owner of the copyright to the movie (or book, CD, etc).

Please visit Baylor's copyright guidelines cited above for more information on these issues.