Library Copyright Policy

The following overview addresses copyright and library copyright policy.

What is copyright?

Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code) to the authors of original works, including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works. Copyright protection is inherent upon creation, and original works are protected regardless of whether they are registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Why is copyright relevant?

Copyright law governs use when you: upload items to a web page; photocopy a journal article or book excerpt; place material on reserve; create a course reader; and more!

What does copyright protect?

Copyright law protects original works that are fixed in a tangible medium of expression. It also protects a new arrangement of existing facts or ideas. Copyright law does NOT protect works in the public domain or facts and ideas.

What does copyright protection entail?

The owner/author of a copyright-protected work has the exclusive right to reproduce the work, sell copies of the work, perform and/or display the work publicly, and prepare derivative works based on the work. If you are NOT the copyright owner to the material that you want to use, then permission must be sought for the item -- or your use must fall within the parameters of Fair Use.

When does copyright expire?

If the work was published BEFORE January 1, 1978, copyright protection will last the life of the author plus 95 years. If the work was published AFTER January 1, 1978, copyright protection will last the life of the author plus 70 years. Copyright protection for corporate works (ex. Disney's Mickey Mouse) is the date of creation plus 90 years. Once copyright has expired, the item is considered to be in the public domain.

What is in the public domain?

  • Facts, "common knowledge"
  • Ideas not in a tangible form
  • Most document and reports produced by the U.S. Federal Government
  • Items whose copyright has expired

The Fair Use Doctrine

Fair Use allows the reproduction of an excerpt of a work for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair Use is not an infringement of copyright and does not require permission from the copyright holder. Fair Use of an item is determined by a Four-Factor Test:

  1. Purpose and character of use –non-profit, educational use versus commercial use
  2. Nature of item being used – non-fiction work versus fiction/highly creative work
  3. Amount to be used – small amount versus entire work
  4. Market effect on item– One time use versus repeated or long-term use

Fair Use: 4-Factor Test
The chart below is a summary of the Four-Factor Test in Fair Use. Although the parameters of Fair Use are negotiable, favoring Fair Use as much as possible keeps your work within a legally defensible position. 

FactorFavors Fair UseDoes not favor Fair Use
PURPOSE of use Non-profit Commercial
NATURE of item Non-fiction Fiction
AMOUNT used Small Large; "heart" of work
EFFECT on item Maintains market value Lowers market value

Guidelines for Fair Use and the web

To put copyright protected material on the web, specifically for a course website or educational page, and still claim Fair Use, it is recommended that:

  • The web page is password-protected
  • Access to the web page is limited to students enrolled in the course
  • The use is only for a limited time, usually one semester
  • Item credit line/source information is listed

Due to the interpretive variability of Fair Use, the following guidelines were established to aid educators in determining what could safely be considered Fair Use. Although the parameters set below are a good guide to follow when organizing your work, it is important to note that they are only guidelines, and NOT the law. Copyright law is purposely vague to allow for interpretation in a variety of situations.

  • Text material: Up to 10 percent or 1000 words of a written work, whichever is less; title page/source information is included in copy file.
  • Images: Use smaller sized image (ex. thumbnail); Lower resolution (standard: 72 dpi); list credit line, source, and attribution information; limit to a few pieces from a single artist.
  • Movies/TV programs: Up to 10 percent or 3 minutes of motion media, whichever is less; not the "heart" of the work.
  • Music/Music video: 10 percent, but no more than 30 seconds, of an individual musical work; any alteration to music cannot change the "fundamental character" of the work.

Items NOT under Fair Use

The following types of material do not fall under the Fair Use doctrine, no matter what the intended use.

  • Software: You do not own software, you have only purchased a license to use it; you may make one copy of software for archival purposes.
  • Consumables (i.e. student workbooks, manuals): Meant to be purchased by each student for individual use; market value is lowered when only one copy is bought and photocopied.

What uses of copyright-protected material require permission?

  • Creation of a course reader
  • Repeated use of an item
  • Re-publication of a whole or large excerpt of a copyright-protected work
  • Any commercial use
  • Large quantity duplication of distribution

From whom can I obtain copyright permission?

Permission to use a copyright-protected work may be obtained by contacting the author/creator of the item in question. Authors may be contacted through their publisher, a literary/artistic agency, or an author/artist foundation. Additionally, permission for many copyright-protected works is handled by intermediary licensors, who grant permission and collect fees (if any) on behalf of the author. The largest licensors are the Copyright Clearance Center and the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organizations.

You may also search the U.S. Copyright Office records for the author of a work. Not all authors register their works with the office – if you do not find the item/author in the registry, do not assume that the item is in the public domain.

Protecting your personal work online

Remember that copyright protection is inherent upon creation, but following are some tips to give extra security to any personal work that you might place online.

  • Place "© year – your name" on all pages of the work
  • Register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office
  • Place a "click-thru" agreement, or password protect, the website on which your material is located

Links to websites for further information

LMU sites:

Copyright Videos

Copyright clearance for theses/dissertations:

General Copyright Law:

Fair Use information:

Copyright extension debate:

United States Patent and Trademark Office: