Skip to Main Content

Copyright and Fair Use

A Guide to Information and Resources Related to Copyright and Fair Use

Workshop Slides

Copyright and Fair Use Workshop PPT.

Copyright and Fair Use During Emergency Times

Texas Tech Copyright Guidelines

Please go to the 'Further Reading' page on this guide. It includes more resources for TTU guidelines, international copyright, copyright for architecture and plagairism tools, just to name a few.

What are my Fair Use options?

What is Fair Use?

Fair Use provisions of the copyright law allow use of copyrighted materials on a limited basis for specific purposes without the permission of the copyright holder. 

Four factor test for fair use:

  • For what purpose would the work be used?
  • What is the nature is of the work to be used?
  • How much of the work would be used?
  • What effect on the market for that work would the use have?

Applying this 4-factor test is not a clear-cut process, and each individual needs to weigh all four factors to decide whether a fair use exemption seems to apply to a proposed reuse. Contact the Scholarly Communication Librairan for a one-on-one assistance.

A helpful provides a structure for reviewing all four fair use factors for your proposed use.

If Fair Use does not apply:

  • You can usually pay a fee to the rights holder in order to use material.
  • For reuse of a portion of a book or article, an efficient place to begin is the Copyright Clearance Centera commercial service.
  • For reuse of content from formats other than a book or article ( or film) consult the Scholarly Communication Librarian or 'Further Reading' for a sample permission letter.

What is Copyrighted?

Copyright may be an issue when dealing with:

  • Journal articles, or excerpts from them
  • Books, or excerpts from them
  • Databases and electronic journals 
  • Musical works, scores, lyrics, and sound recordings
  • Pictorial/graphic works, art, sculpture, photographs
  • Audiovisual works, motion pictures, videos, video games
  • Computer software

Copyright is probably not an issue when dealing with:

  • Your lecture notes
  • Your course syllabi/reading lists
  • The problem sets you’ve developed for your courses
  • The tests you’ve created for your courses
  • Publications of the US Government
  • Published works for which copyright has expired or does not apply, i.e. works in the Public Domain

How do works get copyrighted?

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. © Texas Tech University 2016), to register the 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: "© 2016 [name]. For permissions and questions contact [address/email]."

Who owns the copyright to a work?

In most cases, the author or creator of the work is the copyright holder unless they have transferred the rights to someone else through a written agreement, such as a publishing agreement.

If the work is created as part of a person's employment, it may be a "work for hire," meaning that the employer is the copyright holder. In the university setting, faculty writings and other "traditional works of scholarship," such as syllabi and lecture materials 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.

How can I tell if a work is still under copyright? How long does copyright last?

Depending upon when a work was created, it is subject to different requirements regarding copyright notice and registration, as well as different copyright terms. 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. Also, 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. 

As a general rule, works registered or published in the U.S. before 1923 are in the public domain.

Additional Questions

What about online databases and electronic journals: Can I copy or link to them?

  • Most of these are available at Texas Tech under the terms of license agreements, which determine how each electronic journal or database can be used.
    • License terms generally override copyright law where they differ.
  • Linking:
    • Linking to a database or an e-journal from a course page is generally allowed, and is the recommended method for providing online information content.
  • Copying/reposting:
    • to an open access environment: prohibited.
    • to an access-controlled environment: may or may not be allowed.
    • Contact the Scholarly Communication/ Copyright Librarian to determine whether the e-journal or database from which you wish to post content allows it.

How is copyright related to plagiarism?

Plagiarism is best defined as the unacknowledged use of another person’s work. It is an ethical issue involving a claim of credit for work that the claimant did not create. One can plagiarize someone else’s work regardless of the copyright status of that work. For example, it is nonetheless plagiarism to copy from a book or article that is too old to still be under copyright. It is also plagiarism to use data taken from an unacknowledged source, even though factual material like data may not be protected by copyright. Plagiarism, however, is easily cured – proper citation to the original source of the material.

Copyright infringement, on the other hand, is the unauthorized use of another’s work. This is a legal issue that depends on whether or not the work is protected by copyright in the first place, as well as on specifics like how much is used and the purpose of the use. If one copies too much of a protected work, or copies for an unauthorized purpose, simply acknowledging the original source will not solve the problem. Only by seeking prior permission from the copyright holder does one avoid the risk of an infringement charge.

What if I just take an idea from another source but do not copy the words?

Copyright does not protect ideas, only the specific expression of an idea. For example, a court decided that Dan Brown did not infringe the copyright of an earlier book when he wrote The Da Vinci Code because all he borrowed from the earlier work were the basic ideas, not the specifics of plot or dialogue. Since copyright is intended to encourage creative production, using someone else’s ideas to craft a new and original work upholds the purpose of copyright, it does not violate it. Only if one copies another’s expression without permission is copyright potentially infringed.

To avoid plagiarism, on the other hand, one must acknowledge the source even of ideas that are borrowed from someone else, regardless of whether the expression of those ideas is borrowed with them. Thus a paraphrase requires citation, even though it seldom raises any copyright problem.

How can I reclaim my copyright?

Copyright law permits authors to reclaim their copyrights 35 years after transferring these rights. Reclaiming copyright allows the author to make new publishing arrangements, including making the work openly available on the web.

Starting in 2013, authors can reclaim copyrights they transferred (e.g. through an agreement with a publisher) on or after January 1, 1978. Authors interested in reclaiming copyright need to file a notice in advance.

For more information:

Acknowledgement and Appreciation

This guide was originally maintained by librarians at the TTU Architecture Library. It has been updated by Brian Quinn.

The updated version was adapted from library material from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), California State University Long Beach, Duke University, New York University and Florida State University.

This adaptation, created by Camille Thomas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

 Creative Commons License

Copyright and Fair Use Workshop Recording