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Copyright Basics: Is it Copyright Protected?

Work for Hire

The concept of "works made for hire" can be complicated. This circular may help you figure out if the work you're interested in qualifies as a work for hire or not, and what the implications are.

Work Made for Hire Circular

Creative Commons

When creating your own works, you may want to consider licensing its copyright under Creative Commons.

Creative Commons

From the CC website: "Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools.

Our free, easy-to-use copyright licenses provide a simple, standardized way to give the public permission to share and use your creative work — on conditions of your choice. CC licenses let you easily change your copyright terms from the default of “all rights reserved” to “some rights reserved.”

Creative Commons licenses are not an alternative to copyright. They work alongside copyright and enable you to modify your copyright terms to best suit your needs."

How to determine if a work is Copyright protected

(Kevin Smith & Lisa Macklin, Handout on “A Framework for Analyzing any Copyright Problem.”)

One of the most difficult issues for educators and librarians, when faced with a copyright problem, is simply knowing where to begin -- which parts of the legal rules and doctrines apply to this specific problem.

To deal with this uncertainty, we suggest working throught the following five questions, in the order they are presented. They are simple questions, but they are not easy to answer. By working through them in order, it is possible to identify which of the parts of copyight law apply to the specific problem you need to address.

The five questions are:

  1. Is the work protected by copyright?
    • Is the work you want to use protected by copyright or is it in the public domain?
    • If you wrote it, do you still own the copyright or did you sign over rights for your intended use to the publisher?
  2. Is there a specific exception in copyright law that covers your use?
    • Is your use covered by a specific exception to the exclusive rights in the copyright law, such as the one for libraries or for classroom performances and displays (TEACH Act)?
  3. Is there a license that covers your use?
    • Is there a Creative Commons license attached to the work? If so, can you comply with the terms of the license or can you find another useful work that is CC-licensed?
    • Is there a license at Aquinas that governs how the copyrighted material you're accessing through the library can be used? If so, can you comply with the license terms? If you are uncertain, a librarian may be able to help you.
  4. Is your use covered by Fair Use?
    • The four Fair Use factors are:
      • The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for non-profit educational purposes.
      • The nature of the copyrighted work (e.g. is it factual or fiction/more creative).
      • The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.
      • The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
    • Questions for transformative Fair Use under factor one are:
      • Does the copyrighted material help you make your new point?
      • Will it help your readers or viewers get your point?
      • Have you used no more than is needed to make your point (is it "just right")?
  5. Do you need permission from the copyright owner for your use?
    • If so, first locate the copyright owner and fully explain your intended use in your permission request.
    • If no response and the answer is no, reconsider your use of this work to see if you can make a fair use, or consider using another work.