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Copyright Basics


What is Copyright?

Copyright is a type of protection given to an “original work of authorship” (Title 17, United States Code). The purpose of copyright is that it is meant to promote the arts and sciences while still providing incentive for creators. The roots of copyright law really started in Britain in 1710 with The Statute of Anne, which helped out authors who were being exploited by publishers, who were reprinting works and not giving a penny of the profits to the authors. Copyright law originally just encompassed printed works, but now copyright is involved in almost every aspect of commercial life, from movies and music to databases and blogs.

Requirements for protection:

It used to be that you had to file for copyright, but now, copyright is awarded to any original work in fixed medium, regardless of whether it is published or not. You no longer need to file for copyright; it is automatic once you create something in a tangible form. So an idea is NOT copyright-able, but a drawing or poem (even if scribbled on a napkin) IS.

Exclusive Rights:

There are a few rights that all copyright owner receive automatically:

 Produce copies

 Import/Export the work

 Create derivative works

 Performance rights (the right to perform or display the work)

 Sell or assign rights to another

 Broadcasting rights (the right to transmit the work by radio or video)

Only the copyright holder has the power over these rights.

Duration of Rights:

United States copyright protection is currently set at the life of the author plus 70 years for works created since 1978, while works created before 1978 have different copyright duration rules. Works published prior to 1923 are now in the “Public Domain”, meaning that anyone is available to use, build on, or alter these works in any way without first obtaining copyright permission.

The Statute of Anne in 1710 gave authors rights for 14 years. Between 1790-1962, there wasn’t much of an increase in the length of copyright terms, but since 1976, modern the duration for U.S. Copyright Law has nearly doubled. The Sony Bono Copyright Extension Act of 1998 froze the Public Domain for 20 years.

When works pass out of copyright protection, they enter the Public Domain. This essentially means that they are owned by the public and that people can do whatever they want with them, including creating derivative works. This is how books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies can exist without the new creator being sued.] Every year that passes, new materials are supposed to enter the public domain, but this act froze it so that no new materials will enter the public domain until 2019. This is commonly referred to as The Mickey Mouse Protection Act because Mickey Mouse was about to just about due to enter the public domain when this Act was passed, keeping Disney’s rights to Mickey safe and secure. Don’t think that that was a coincidence.

Fair Use:

Fair Use allows for the use of copyrighted material for educational purposes, “such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research.” Copyright law is not supposed to stifle creativity, so this is where Fair Use comes into play. Fair Use makes exceptions for teachers using copyrighted materials in their classrooms, but could also include people remixing videos for satirical purposes, or the use of copyrighted materials to provide social commentary.

If you are confused as to whether the work you want to use falls under Fair Use, you can conduct a Fair Use Analysis: There are four aspects to look at when conducting a Fair Use Analysis:

 The Purpose, including whether it is for commercial or nonprofit educational use;

 The Nature of the work;

 The Amount used in relation to the whole;

 The Effect on the market or value of the work.

 A Fair Use Analysis is not the law, but a guide. Each of these four aspects must be taken in to account in conducting a Fair Use Analysis. If you do an analysis that comes out in your favor, it does not mean that you are exempt or that you are not infringing on copyright law – rather, it just means that there is a good chance that you might not be infringing. If you have doubts, you should always seek permission.

What Cannot Be Copyrighted? Works that are not set in a fixed or tangible form Titles and names Ideas, concepts, procedures, methods, discoveries, and facts Obvious works that do not have an author (for example, a 12-month Julian calendar) Works whose copyright has expired and is in the Public Domain

Although facts (including recipes and formulas) cannot be copyrighted, the arrangement of these facts can.

Staying Copyright Compliant

If you have not secured permission to use a copyrighted work, then follow the following tips to follow Fair Use Guidelines:

 Only use a small piece of the item and only what is absolutely necessary.

 Only use it for personal and class-related purposes.

 Don’t make a copy of the material available in any openly accessible fashion (including on the internet).

 Don’t use it if you are in any way adversely affecting the commercial potential of the work.

 Make sure that you take your excerpt of the work from a legally-obtained version of the work.



As an OCOM student, you have a bit more flexibility than you would normally have in the “real” world, but there are still restrictions on what you can and cannot do. This short guide will hopefully make navigating the fairly complicated, often confusing terrain of copyright.

What You CAN Do:

Students are allowed to make a single copy of a journal article, book chapter, chart, diagram, graph, drawing, cartoon, or picture from a book, periodical or newspaper for their own personal use, as long as it is not used for monetary gain.

What You Can NOT Do:

Although students are allowed to make a single copy of a small portion of a work (an article, chapter, etc.), photocopying an entire book is not allowed.

The distribution of additional copies is also not allowed, including both print and digital formats. In addition, you should not make copyrighted works publicly available (such as posting them on a blog). Course Packs should not be further copied, as this may be a serious infringement of the College’s copyright licenses.

The duplication of A/V media such as audio lectures, music and videos are not covered by fair use; copying of these materials is strictly forbidden.

Using Copyrighted Material in School Work

As mentioned earlier, as a student you have much more flexibility in using copyrighted works when using it in your capacity as a student. Students may use copyrighted text, images, charts, diagrams and other material in school papers, as long as the material is cited properly. If you are planning on publishing your materials, even informally on the web, you will need to conduct fair use analyses for the use of copyrighted material and possibly pay a fee for use of such materials.

If your class uses a course packet:

  • Royalties are paid for each copyrighted work used in a course packet, and the cost is passed on to the students. Students will not be charged at a profit to the school.
  • Course Packs should not be further copied, as this may be a serious infringement of the College’s copyright licenses.
  • Any information on how to purchase a course packet should be included in your course syllabus. Please contact your instructor for specific instructions on ordering course packets.



Uploading Material to Populi

If you would like to post copyrighted information into Populi, here are some guidelines:

 Do not upload material that you do not own unless you have already received permission from the copyright owner to do so. If at all possible, link out to the material online! For example, if you find a YouTube video that you would like students to watch, do not download the video and upload it into Populi; rather, you can just embed the video into the lesson, or create a link to the video on YouTube.

 Feel free to link to websites and open access journal articles found freely available on the web.

 If you would like to post an article that is not freely available online or via the OCOM Library, you conduct a Fair Use Analysis. If you deem your use falls under Fair Use, then feel free to use the material. If you have concerns about its use, fill out a Course Reserve Request Form. A library staff member will legally obtain the article for you and send you a PDF or a link that you can then post into Populi.

A Single Article

Instructors may post a journal article in Populi for use in their course without having to get copyright permission. Please remember to include the full citation and copyright information along with the article. If the article is used repeatedly (i.e., the article was used in the course last year, and you want to use it again this year), copyright permission needs to be secured. Fill out the Course Reserve Request Form before using an article that you used in the previous year. 

Feel free to link to websites and open access journal articles found freely available on the web. Linking out is preferable to uploading PDFs. 

A Book Chapter

Instructors may post a up to two scanned book chapters in Populi for use in their course without having to get copyright permission, provided that the scanned material is equal to less than 10% of the entire book. Please remember to include the full citation and copyright information along with the scanned chapter(s). If you are using more than two chapter, more than 10% of the work, or if the book chapter is used repeatedly (i.e., the scanned chapter(s) were used in the course last year, and you want to use them again this year), copyright permission needs to be secured. Fill out the Course Reserve Request Form if the book chapter(s) you would like to use meet any of these criteria.

Videos & DVDs

Videotapes of a recorded television program may be put on reserve for one academic term only; any additional use requires the purchase of a legally produced copy from the copyright owner or authorized dealer.

When adding video in Populi, if at all possible, link out to the material online! For example, if you find a YouTube video that you would like students to watch, do not download the video and upload it into Populi; rather, you can just embed the video into the lesson, or create a link to the video on YouTube.

Online Materials

Instructors may place legally obtained copies of copyrighted materials on Populi for one academic term; linking to open access or resources that the library subscribes to is preferred. Uploading copyrighted material to other online venues (such as a personal website or file sharing site) is expressly prohibited.

Presenting Material in the Classroom

The Classroom Use Exception (17 U.S.C. §110(1)) allows instructors to use copyrighted materials in the classroom without seeking permission. This exception is explicitly for in-person classroom instruction at a non-profit institution, and does not cover online teaching (there are different rules for that).

If you would like to show a video, listen to a podcast, or otherwise display any copyrighted material in the classroom, you are free to do so! Just make sure you are not posting online or otherwise making the resource available outside of that class lecture.

Creating a Stable Link to an Article

If you find an article in one of the library online resources that you would like your students to have access to, copy and pasting the URL from the top of your browser screen will often end in errors and headaches. If you would like to link your students or colleagues to an article from within a library database or online journal subscription, you will need to create a proxied URL. A proxy is a way of letting the website know that the person trying to access the article belongs to OCOM; it will redirect them to the login page so they can successfully view the full-text. This is OCOM’s proxy:

If you had to log in to view the article, your students will need to do the same! Any URL you post will have two parts: the proxy and the permalink. EXAMPLE:

For articles found directly from journal publisher websites, the permalink is just the regular URL from the web browser. So just copy the URL in your search bar, and add the proxy to the beginning of it.

Articles found in databases (such as EBSCO host and Gale) often have a built-in option to create a proxied URL. Look for the permalink button, and make sure the proxy is at the beginning of the URL:

Requesting Course Reserves

Faculty members may request materials to be placed on reserve. Course reserves can be in electronic format (such as a PDF of a journal article that is posted in Populi or Moodle), or the physical item may be place on reserve in the library for 24-hour checkout (for example, an entire book or a chart).

If you have already added the book to your list of required texts in Populi, there is no need to fill out this form — we will automatically place these items on reserve.

Please allow adequate time for reserve requests — we may need to request copyright permissions, which could take as long as a week to secure. To place a request, fill out this form.

Course Packets

If you will be using six or more articles, books chapters, or other items that require securing copyright permissions, you will need to work with the OCOM Bookstore to create a course packet. The library may carry course textbooks and required materials on reserve, but will not provide access to course packets – it is the responsibility of the instructor to work with the Bookstore in creating this and instructing students on how to purchase packets.

Making Copies for Classroom Use

When making print or digital copies for classroom use, a copyright notice should be stamped on the first page of the material being copied (17 U.S.C. §401) and instructors must meet the tests of Brevity, Spontaneity and Cumulative Effect:


Poetry: (a) A complete poem if less than 250 words and if printed on not more than two pages or (b) from a longer poem, an excerpt of not more than 250 words.

Prose: (a) Either a complete article, story, or essay of less than 2,500 words, or (b) an excerpt from any prose work of not more than 1,000 words or 10% of the work, whichever is less, but in any event a minimum of 500 words. (Each of the numerical limits stated in “i” and “ii” above may be expanded to permit the completion of an unfinished line of a poem or of an unfinished prose paragraph.)

Illustration: One chart, graph, diagram, drawing, cartoon, or picture per book or per periodical issue.

“Special” works: Certain works in poetry, prose, or in “poetic prose” which often combine language with illustrations and which are intended sometimes for children and at other times for a more general audience fall short of 2,500 words in their entirety. Paragraph “ii” above notwithstanding such “special works” may not be reproduced in their entirety; however, an excerpt comprising not more than two of the published pages of such special work and containing not more than 10% of the words found in the text thereof may be reproduced.


 The copying is at the instance and inspiration of the individual teacher; and
 The inspiration and decision to use the work and the moment of its use for maximum teaching effectiveness are so close in time that it would be unreasonable to expect a timely reply to a request for permission. 

Cumulative Effect:

 The copying of the material is for only one course in the school in which the copies are made.
 Not more than one short poem, article, story, essay, or two excerpts may be copied from the same author, nor more than three from the same collective work or periodical volume during one class term.
 There shall not be more than nine instances of such multiple copying for one course during one class term. (The limitations stated in “ii” and “iii” above shall not apply to current news periodicals and newspapers and current news sections of other periodicals.)

If the instructor will be using the material for more than one academic term, the instructor should work with the College Librarian to secure the required course materials to be placed on reserve in the library. If the instructor is using six or more articles, books chapters, or other items that require securing copyright permissions, the instructor will need to work with Clean Copy to create a course packet. See the Course Packets section for more details.



If a student group or club would like to show a film, the sponsoring group will need to secure the proper licensing rights. Films showings that are organized by student groups or clubs are considered public performances, even if the film is educational or if the event is only available to OCOM students.

Many films (both documentaries and feature films) require a public performance license to be purchased. The sponsoring club is responsible for the funding of the performance license, and a license or permission must be secured even if the film is acquired from a personal collection, rental store, or library. For smaller, independent productions, students may contact the distributor directly to ask for permission. Proof of purchase of a required license must be presented to the Student Services Manager prior to advertising for the event.

If a student club requires assistance in locating information about the copyright holder, they may contact the Director of Library Services for assistance.

Finding a Copyright Holder

Search for the title on IMDB and click on the Company Credits link. Look for the US DVD distributor — this is generally the company that you want to contact about getting performance licensing. If no distributor or company credits are listed, try going to the film’s website to see if the site includes contact information.

Licensing Services

Most big-budget and feature releases can be licensed through third-party licensing companies without having to contact the copyright holder. Here are some film licensing providers:

OCOM-Owned Videos

Some videos in OCOM’s collection already come with the performance rights — we bought these titles at a higher price, and are free to show them without seeking permission. Here is a current list of our titles: