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Copyright for Higher Education

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 and is 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 14 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 promote prosperity. The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, ratified in 1781, encouraged states to adopt copyright laws, resulting in a hodgepodge of laws, 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.

While the librarians at PSC are not attorneys and cannot provide legal advice, we can answer questions and seek additional resources to assist faculty, staff, and students.

The American Library Association has issued a statement on Fair Use and Emergency Remote Teaching & Research in response to the need created by the pandemic for remote access in education. 

Click here for the Congressional Research Service's statement on intellectual property issues during the pandemic.

What Does Copyright Cover?

U.S. Copyright law covers original works 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 print or electronic formats. Authors and publishers generally retain the right to control how their work is used, with some exceptions for Fair Use by students, educators and researchers.

Copyright protections cover 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

Law enforcement agencies don't actively seek out copyright infringement to prosecute, but rights holders are often on the lookout for individuals or groups violating their copyright. Copyright holders may seek damages in court if materials are used without their permission. A high profile example is the $600 million lawsuit filed by a technology company against the U.S. Navy.  

Penalties for violating copyright 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 they use for classes, they are responsible for damages related to copyright violations, not the college.