Frequently Asked Questions

General Questions

What is Copyright?
Copyright is a form of protection provided by United States law (title 17, U.S.Code) to the authors or creators of literary, dramatic, musical, artistic and other intellectual works. From the moment of the fixation of any original work in any tangible medium, the author of that work owns a "copyright" on it. This copyright gives its owner the exclusive right to, or to authorize others to:

  • reproduce (i.e. duplicate, photocopy, etc.) the work
  • prepare a derivative work
  • distribute copies of the work
  • perform the work publicly
  • display the work publicly

The author can sell or assign any of these rights to someone else, such as a publisher.

Why does LITS care about copyright?
Library, Information and Technology Services is closely involved in copyright as the keepers of vast stores of intellectual and artistic works. Violating the rights granted to the creators of these works is contrary to the spirit of intellectual growth and freedom because it is by these rights that creativity is, hopefully, encouraged and rewarded. On a more practical note, it is also important to realize that it is clearly illegal. LITS does not want to put the College at risk, nor do we want to subject our staff to personal liability for knowingly violating copyright law.

What is "fair use"?
The doctrine of fair use is a part of the copyright law that mitigates the rights of the copyright owner to allow for the needs of students and scholars. Fair Use, as defined in the law, is only a set of guidelines. It does not give explicit rules or exact measures. To determine if your "use" (copying, performing, etc.) of a copyrighted work is legitimate you must consider all four of the following factors:

  • The purpose and character of the use - e.g., nonprofit, educational or commercial.
  • The nature of the original copyrighted work, especially whether it is creative, like a novel, or informational, like news reporting. Creative works generally are more protected.
  • The amount, substantiality, or portion used in relation to the work as a whole.
  • The effect of the use on the potential market value of the work.

Falling clearly on the "right" side of any one of these factors is not enough to ensure that your use is indeed fair. Educational use is not equivalent to fair use, even though it is a point in your favor.

When is a work NOT protected by copyright?
There are several categories of works which are in the public domain, meaning there are no copyright restrictions on their use. If a work was published before 1923, its copyright has now expired. Also, works produced by the United States Government are automatically considered to be in the public domain. There are other odd instances where the use of a work might not be restricted by copyright (e.g. a work published between 1923-1963 whose copyright was not renewed). RIS Liaisions can help you determine if a work you are interested in using might be in the public domain.

Reserves-related Questions

Can I scan (or make a copy) of an entire book?
Generally, no. This might be possible, though, in certain circumstances such as when the book is in the public domain, or if it is determined to be out of print and unavailable to purchase, or to use as an extra in an emergency while waiting for a purchased copy to arrive.

Once I've purchased a book, or subscribed to a journal, why can't I do what I want with it?
Mere ownership of a book, manuscript, painting or any other copy does not give the possessor the copyright. The law provides that transfer of ownership of any material object that embodies a copyright protected work does not of itself convey any rights in the copyright. If copyright were to convey, it would likely mean depriving the copyright owner of legitimate income from the purchasing of multiple copies. Sometimes it is also a question of protecting the intellectual/artistic content of the work from what the copyright owner might consider misuse. It is for these reasons, primarily, that copyright exists and that it does not transfer along with simple ownership of a book, video, etc.

What about making up my own anthologies of scanned (or photocopied) materials for a coursepack?
Under guidelines to the interpretation of copyright law worked out by author and publisher groups, this is not allowed. They state, "Copying shall not be used to create or to replace or substitute for anthologies, compilations or collective works." This has been upheld in separate court cases against New York University, University of Texas, Kinko's and Michigan Document Services, Inc. The Michigan case was considered for review by the U.S. Supreme Court, but they declined to hear the case so the lower court decision stands.

What can I do to ensure that I have the materials I need for my students without conflicting with copyright?
The simplest thing to do is to look toward getting permission to make the needed scans/copies and/or purchasing the necessary number of print items. Each print item for which a royalty has been paid (in the purchase price) or permission to scan has been given is then legitimately cleared of copyright. LITS staff can help with this in the following ways:

In the case of whole books or scans from books that exceed Fair Use:

  • Purchasing additional copies for print reserve. If a title is in great demand, we can initiate orders for additional copies. 
  • Licensing e-book access.  Not all titles are available as e-books for libraries to acquire, but we will try.  Please email or contact your RIS liaison to discuss options.
  • Out of print exceptions. If a needed title is out of print and additional (or electronic) copies are unavailable, LITS can initiate a search of out of print dealers. Significant lead time is needed to implement this option. In an emergency, contact your RIS Liaison to discuss options.
  • Five College cooperation. Five College libraries have agreed to loan books from one library to another for use in the Reserve collection as a temporary measure while waiting for a copy to be obtained. This practice is seen as exceptional and not routine.

In the case of journal articles: 

  • LITS subscribes to databases that provide journal access to the entire community.  You can share links and PDFs with your students through Moodle.  It is a violation of copyright to share licensed PDFs on open websites; please use Moodle.
  • Articles obtained via Interlibrary Loan (ILL) are for personal use only.  If you are looking to provide access to articles (including through Moodle) that you have obtained through ILL, please contact your RIS liaison to discuss options.

Interlibrary Loan-related Questions

Does copyright restrict borrowing through interlibrary loan?
Copyright has little or no effect on borrowing physical books through interlibrary loan (ILL), since no copying is involved. It sometimes affects the borrowing of video materials, as the right to show them has limitations. The primary area in which copyright restricts ILL is in the procurement of articles as they are actually scans or copies, not originals.

Where do copyright and ILL intersect?
The concept behind these guidelines is that ILL should not be substituting for a subscription or purchase. That is, if you need more than a nominal portion of a journal, you probably should be buying it.  The guidelines that have been worked out to deal with interlibrary loan places some restrictions on the requesting of articles:

  • No more than five articles from any one periodical title published in the last five years can be requested by a library in one calendar year. This is called the "rule of five" for short. Basically it means that this year we (LITS) can only request five articles from the 1997-2002 issues of, for example, Social Science and Medicine. Once we have reached that limit we cannot request any more until next year without paying royalty fees.  LITS pays these fees on your behalf, if needed, or uses a commercial document delivery service rather than traditional ILL.
  • Articles obtained via Interlibrary Loan (ILL) are for personal use only.  If you are looking to provide access to articles (including through Moodle) that you have obtained through ILL, please contact your RIS liaison to discuss options.

How can the Library help to be sure we can access the materials we need?
The Library monitors ILL requests and considers new subscriptions when we do find a title that seems heavily requested. We also use a commercial document delivery service, as an alternative to ILL, when appropriate.

Video-related Questions

What do I need to know about showing videos?:
See Video Copyright to learn about whether or not you need to secure public performance rights.

May I digitize or make a copy of a College-owned video to put on Reserve?
LITS can stream MHC library owned videos that are integral to the classroom experience of a course.  Streaming videos are only available to registered students in the course through the course's password protected Moodle site.  See How to Submit Video Reserve Requests.  You may alternatively obtain permission from the copyright holder.  If the title is not integral to the classroom experience, it may be easier simply to purchase a second copy for physical Reserves. 

What is LITS doing to expand our ability to make use of video and film materials?
RIS Liaisons can help you determine how to obtain public performance rights, how to obtain permission to digitize/copy, and can work with vendors or distributors to smooth any problems with your use of their videos for preview or classroom use.  LITS also subscribes to the Kanopy streaming service, which includes a wide variety of documentaries, indie and foreign films, classics, and blockbuster movies.  

Can I use clips from videos in my own video or web production?
As with printed materials, the general idea is that "Fair Use" will allow you to copy/reproduce limited amounts of a video for educational purposes.  The general rule of thumb for this is no more than 3 minutes or 10% of the whole, whichever is less.

Web and Multimedia Related Questions

Are World Wide Web pages copyrighted?
Yes, both the individual elements (original graphics, text, etc.) of a web page and the overall design of a web page are protected by copyright from the moment they are created.

May I copy a portion of someone's web page to use on my own page?
No, not without permission. Although experts disagree about what exactly constitutes copying in an electronic environment, it is quite clear that pasting a portion of someone's page onto your page would qualify. Also, taking a portion of someone else's work and putting it into a new context (your page) probably constitutes creating a "derivative work". This is another violation of copyright.

Can I download an image from the web and put it on my web page (or scan in a photo or graphic I find in print)?
Again, if the work is in copyright, this would be a clear violation of copyright. If you can find a graphic/photo that is old enough for the copyright to have expired (generally created before 1923) or is otherwise in the public domain, then this is alright.  Many images on the web are also assigned Creative Commons licenses which allow for redistribution/reuse.  Creative Commons gives everyone from individual creators to large companies and institutions a simple, standardized way to grant copyright permissions to their creative work.  Flickr, for example, brings together collections of images that bear Creative Commons licenses.  Otherwise you should assume the work is copyrighted and seek permission if you want to use it on the web.  LITS has some licensed image resources available that may offer you other alternatives.  Check with the Research Help Desk for guidance and suggestions.

Can I put in a link to anything I want?
Yes!  Linking is not copying or redistribution.  Note that if you link to a licensed resource, the people following your links must have valid MHC credentials to log in.

But, isn't something posted to the Internet already in the public domain? What about "implied license"?
Copyright law certainly does not recognize the principle of implied license. It MAY be true that someone who puts information up on the Internet understands and expects that people will use it and even copy it; but that doesn't mean you would be protected by law in doing so. Consider the parallel of a movie being broadcast on television. Just because it's broadcast doesn't mean you have a legal right to copy it. Making one copy for your personal use at home might be justified as a fair use, but rebroadcasting or otherwise displaying/performing it publicly, as on the Internet, wouldn't be. Works can only be put in the public domain by an explicit grant of the author (or copyright expiration).

May I repost someone else's message to a different listserv from where I read it?
Probably not. Leaving the thorny "copying" issues aside, this would likely constitute unauthorized distribution. However, reposting someone's message back to the same group of people (i.e. in responding to a  listserv or regular email message) is common practice and unlikely to cause any copyright problems since the same people already received the original. It is important to remember that email messages ARE copyrighted and have the same protection as any written work. Fair use applies, but they are not in the public domain. Common practice, "netiquette", may insulate you from the likelihood of a lawsuit, but it is not a guarantee -- or a legal defense.