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Copyright for Higher Education: Home

This guide provides faculty and staff with information about their rights and responsibilities when using copyrighted materials in face to face or online classes.

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a legal framework for protecting authors' works intended to encourage creation of new artistic, literary, and scientific works. England passed the first copyright law, the Statute of Anne, in 1710, providing authors a 14-year monopoly on their own works. Authors could renew their copyright once - for fourteen years - if they were still alive. After that period, the work moved into the public domain, and could be reproduced for sale by any printer. When the United States became independent, legislators maintained their belief that copyright was an important way to encourage prosperity. The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, ratified in 1781, encouraged states to adopt copyright laws, resulting in a hodgepodge of schemes offering as little as seven years of protection for authors. Recognizing that this system was unworkable, Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the Constitution gave Congress power over copyright. The first national copyright law, the Copyright Act of 1790, mirrored the Statute of Anne's provisions. The United States has extended and modified its copyright laws to extend the author's monopoly and to create provisions for Fair Use of copyrighted works for education and research.

This guide provides the resources and guidelines that can help faculty navigate copyright issues. While the librarians at PSC are not attorneys and cannot provide legal advice, we are happy to answer questions and seek additional resources to assist faculty, staff, and students.

What Does Copyright Cover?

Copyright covers original works "in a tangible medium of expression" for defined periods of time. It provides copyright holders, including authors and publishers, the right to publish, distribute, and sell works of literature, art, music, and film in traditional physical or electronic formats. Authors and publishers generally retain the right to control how their work is used, with some exceptions set aside for Fair Use by students, educators, researchers, and parodists.

Copyright protects works in the following categories:

  • literary works
  • musical works
  • dramatic works
  • pantomimes and choreographic works
  • pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  • motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • sound recordings
  • architectural works

Infringement Penalties

While law enforcement agencies don't actively seek out copyright infringement to prosecute, rights holders are often on the lookout for evidence that individuals or groups are violating their copyright. Copyright holders may seek damages in court if you use materials without their permission. The most recent high profile example is a $600 million lawsuit by a technology company against the United States Navy. While this is an extreme example, the cost of copyright lawsuits can be quite high. 

Penalties can include:

  • The value in lost sales.
  • Between $200 and $150,000 for each infringement.
  • All of the attorneys fees and court costs for the suit.
  • Seizure of works.
  • Jail time.

Since faculty select the materials that they use for classes, they would be responsible for damages related to copyright violations, not the college.