Members of the MCCC community are expected to comply with federal copyright laws. Copyright can be a complex subject. This information is intended for informational and educational purposes and should not be taken as legal advice.
What is copyright?
Copyright is a legal protection which gives authors, artists, and other creators some control over distribution, reproduction, performance, and display of their works. These rights may be subject to limited exceptions such as the Fair Use provisions (Section 107 of the Copyright Act) and distance education provisions of the TEACH Act (Section 110(2) of the Copyright Act). The Digital Millennium Copyright Act brought copyright law and penalties into the digital age.
What is protected under copyright?
Any original, creative work of authorship “fixed in a tangible medium of expression” is covered. Examples of a tangible medium include a computer hard-drive whether in your office or across the world, pencil on paper, videotape, etc. Examples of works of authorship include videos, photographs, music, articles and other written or literary works.
Copyright occurs automatically, whether or not the author wants it, at the time a creative work is fixed in a tangible medium. Registration, copyright notices or official publication are not required; thus, even first drafts of a paper or email messages or cellphone photos are subject to copyright. Facts or ideas, the title of a work, works of the federal government and works that entered the public domain are NOT subject to copyright.
How long does copyright last?
Copyright can last a long time: 95 years after date of creation for works made for an employer or up to 70 years after the death of the author.
Is the work I want to use copyrighted?
Copyright happens quite easily and lasts very long. Thus, unless the work is very old (pre-1920s) or produced directly by the U.S. government, you should assume that the work you want to use is under copyright.
Creative Commons promotes several standard copyright licenses creators can use to allow copyrighted works to be more easily shared and used without asking permission. Some search and photo sharing sites, such as Flickr Creative Commons allow one to find Creative Commons licensed works.
Fair Use exception
Fair Use allows individual exceptions for limited use of copyrighted works without requiring prior permission from the copyright owner. Copying must be for purposes of comment and criticism, which includes teaching, or for parody. Four factors must be considered when evaluating each copyrighted item. If a user’s response is “Fair Use” to at least three of the four items, the use of the item under consideration leans heavily toward fair use. These are only guidelines. Remember that each instance of use stands on its own. A single strong "disfavors fair use." can easily outweigh three "favors fair use". Only a judge can ultimately decide if a particular situation reflects fair use.
- Purpose and character of the use
- Disfavors Fair Use: commercial uses.
- Favors Fair Use: non-profit educational use. Annotations and comments, not just a copy.
- Nature of the copyrighted work
- Disfavors Fair Use: poem, paintings, fiction and other more creative works.
- Favors Fair Use: scholarly, technical, scientific works.
- How much of the copyrighted work is used relative to the whole
- Disfavors Fair Use: a big percentage of the work, many pieces of works by the same author, or the most important part of the work.
- Favors Fair Use: a small portion of the work.
- Effect on the potential market of the copyrighted work
- Disfavors Fair Use: copying a one-use workbook or form. Repeated or long-term use. Lots of copies.
- Favors Fair Use: work not marketed for sale or licensing.
Distance education (TEACH Act) exception
The distance education provisions, originally the TEACH Act, of the Copyright Act [Section 110(2)] provide exceptions for distance learning and transmission of copyrighted works for educational purposes, such as Blackboard usage. Conditions include, among others:
- Must be for the purpose of distance education.
- Made under supervision of an instructor at an accredited nonprofit educational institution.
- Be directly related to the curriculum and materially assist the teaching content.
- Access limited only to students enrolled in the class.
- Allows performance of a non-dramatic literary or musical work (a recording of a piano sonata) or a reasonable and limited portion of any other work. (e.g. excerpt of a movie) or display of any work similar to what would occur in a face-to-face classroom setting.
Obtaining permission for use of a work
A standard MCCC Request to Duplicate Copyrighted Material form is used to request permission from the rights holder(s) for use of a copyrighted work. A copy of the agreement is to be kept in the appropriate dean’s office.
Useful Copyright Links:
Fair Use and TEACH Act:
- Circular 21. Reproduction of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians.
- Copyright and Fair Use Overview. Stanford University.
- Hall Davidson’s Classroom Copyright Chart
- Proposed Educational Guidelines on Fair Use (Stanford University)
- Schoolcraft College Checklist for Fair Use
- Creative Commons
- Using Creative Commons Licensed Material (University of Michigan)
- Flickr Explore Creative Commons