Can I Use it or Not?

Adapted from: Harper, Georgia et al University of Texas - Fair Use of Copyrighted Material

Basic Steps:

Answer these three questions to decide whether you need permission to use someone else’s work.

1.  Is the work you want to use protected by copyright?
Consider that copyright does not protect, and anyone may freely use, the following:

  • Works that lack originality
         o logical, comprehensive compilations (like the phone book)
         o unoriginal reprints of public domain works
  • Works in the public domain
  • Freeware (not shareware, but really, expressly, available free of restrictions-ware)
  • US Government works
  • Facts
  • Ideas, processes, methods, and systems described in copyrighted works

Note: The presence or absence of a copyright notice no longer carries the significance it once did because the law no longer requires a notice. Older works published without a notice may be in the public domain, but for works created after March 1, 1989, absence of a notice means virtually nothing.

If you answered "no" to question #1, you need go no further;  if yes, proceed to question #2.
2.  If the work is protected by copyright, do you wish to exercise one of the owner’s exclusive rights?
The owner of the copyright - usually the author/creator or the publisher - has the exclusive right to any and all of the following:

  • Make a copy (reproduce)
  • Use a work as the basis for a new work (create a derivative work)
  • Electronically distribute or publish copies (distribute a work)
  • Publicly perform music, prose, poetry, a drama, or play a video or audio tape or a CD-ROM, etc. (publicly perform a work)
  • Publicly display an image on a computer screen or otherwise (publicly display a work)

If what you want to do with the work in question involves any of the above (and it’s hard to imagine it wouldn’t) then proceed to question #3.

3.  Is your use of the work exempt or excused from liability for infringement?
The following exemptions exist within copyright law to allow for using a copyrighted work without permission or license:

  • Fair use
  • Library’s special rights (unlikely to apply here)
  • Educational performances and displays

If one of these exemptions applies to your situation, you are in the clear;  if not, you need permission!