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Author Rights and Copyright: Copyright


The information as provided in this section is not intended to serve as legal guidance or advice. Authors are encouraged to consult the Office of the Vice Chancellor and General Counsel (OGC) for advice on specific issues or situations.


Copyright is one of the areas of federal law that most directly affects the educational mission of the university. Faculty and students stand on both sides of the copyright equation. On the one hand, they create copyrighted works, e.g., papers, articles, software, and musical compositions, and they need to manage those rights properly. They need to know how to make those works available to the public, while ensuring that they retain the rights they need to engage in future activities. On the other hand, faculty and students use copyrighted works created by others, and they need to make sure that their uses do not infringe copyright. Because faculty and students stand on both sides of this complex equation, understanding of the fundamental principles of copyright law is recommended.

Copyright law gives an author of a work a bundle of exclusive rights to do and to authorize others to do the following with the work:

  • To reproduce the work
  • To prepare derivative works based on the work
  • To distribute copies of the work to the public
  • To perform the work publicly
  • To display the work publicly

These rights, however, are not unlimited. The law establishes certain exceptions from copyright liability. If the work enjoys copyright protection and there are no exceptions available, permission must be obtained from the owner to use the work. Using a copyrighted work without permission may constitute copyright infringement, subjecting the user to significant civil and even criminal penalties.

Fair Use (Education and Scholarship)

The copyright law contains a non-exclusive list of purposes for which the use of a copyrighted work would be considered “fair,” such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship or research. Determining whether a proposed use is fair is case specific, and requires consideration of these four factors:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes.
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work.
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Public Domain

Public domain refers to materials that do not apply under copyright law or copyright protection has expired. The public is considered to own these works and permission is not required. As of 2024, copyrighted works from 1928 will enter the U.S. public domain.   Other works in the public domain are materials authored by U.S. government employees as part of their official duties and most content from .gov websites.  Materials that do not apply under copyright law are facts, ideas, blank forms, etc. 

Works Covered Under Copyright

Copyright protection covers both published and unpublished works in the following categories:

  • Literary works (including computer programs and databases)
  • 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
  • Architectural works
  • Emails
  • Survey instruments and questionnaires
  • Tables, charts and figures

NOTE: Data from inside tables, charts and figures can be used with proper citation/attribution and do not require permission.  However, copying figures, tables or charts requires permission. 

Works Not Covered Under Copyright

 Several categories of material are generally not eligible for federal copyright protection. These include:

  • Facts
  • Ideas, methods, or systems
  • U.S. government works
  • Principles, concepts, procedures or processes
  • Blank forms
  • Computing and measuring devices
  • Listings of ingredients in formulas, recipes, compounds, and prescriptions
  • Names, titles or short phrases
  • Public domain works
  • Works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression (for example, choreographic works that have not been notated or recorded, or improvisational speeches or performances that have not been written or recorded)