Copyright permissions for educators -- flow chart

Copyrights are the intellectual property rights given to authors of tangible works such as writings, music, films, and art (Stim, 2010). They cover the rights of creative works that a patent does not reach, and give the artist a much longer period of time to reap the monetary benefits (Stim, 2010). This may be beneficial to the authors, but may also hinder the progress of further artistic creations. Educators often believe they have a greater right to use copyright-protected materials since their purpose is usually to disseminate information for the improvement of individuals as well as society within the confines of education. However, the fact that there are financial dividends for educators and educational institutions, whether nonprofit or not cannot be ignored. The legal system tries to strike a balance that will reward the creators of innovative works and yet allow others to build upon it or just use it for the sake of educating others (Waxer & Baum, 2007).  This leaves all educators with the need to understand copyright law for the works they create and the for the works of others they choose to use.
As an educator, you should follow the advice and guidelines set forth in copyright law, Fair Use, and the Teach Act. Educational institutions have recommendations and may supply their own checklist and resources. Let’s take a look at the process of using someone’s creative work for one of your classes or seminars. Follow the path set forth in the Prezi presentation.
First, assume that all work is copyright-protected. This is the safest course to take since work that is published and tangible becomes protected automatically under the copyright law of 1976 (17 U.S.C. § 102, 2012).    
Next, look for any insignia that shows that the work is copyright-protected, which is usually designated by the © symbol along with a date and name. If the answer is yes, you have three options: (1) use it under the “Fair Use” clause of the copyright, (2) use it under the “Teach Act” law of copyright or (3) write a letter and ask for permission from the copyright holder.
If there is no copyright symbol, check for another symbol, called the Creative Commons license that looks like this: The Creative commons license includes a number of sharing rights which must be followed, but generally they are less restrictive and more open than a copyright. Yet, it is more restrictive than a work in the public domain. Often it requires attribution to the author with a link.
When there is no mark, either copyright or creative commons, you still will not know if the material is in the public domain until you secure more information. This is because the copyright laws have changed over the years. You have to look at the year it was published and sometimes, whether it was renewed (Waxer & Baum, 2007).
Public domain means that a previously copyright-protected work has expired and the material is free for the public to use (Gassaway, 2011). A work is in the public domain if it was published before 1923 (assuming we are looking at this scenario in 2012). There are many works that have fallen into the public domain and have become free to use without fear of copyright infringement. Second, if the work was published from 1923 to 1977 and does not have a copyright symbol ©, it is in the public domain (Stim, 2010). Third, if the work was published between 1923 and 1963, has a copyright symbol ©, but it was not renewed after 28 years, which was a requirement by law for those creative works (Stim, 2010). Fourth, if the work in question was published from 1978 to March, 1, 1989, carries no copyright symbol ©, and there was no subsequent registration, the material is in the public domain (Stim, 2010). In these cases, you may use the work without permission because it is in the public domain.
Next is the gray area for determining if a creative work is copyright-protected. In these cases, it may be protected 95 years from the date of publication before it falls into the public domain: (1) from 1923 to 1963, if it has a copyright symbol © and was renewed after 28 years from the first registration, (2) from 1964 to 1977 with a copyright symbol © (Stim, 2010). Renewal dates may be checked with the Stanford copyright renewal base (Calter, n.d.).  The published work is protected for 70 years after the death of the author or if a corporation, 95 years from the publication date or 120 years from its creation (whichever expires first) for the following scenarios: (1) 1978 to March 1, 1989 with a copyright symbol or without one and registered within fiver years, (2) March 1, 1989 through 2002, with a copyright or symbol or without one, and (3) after 2002 (Stim, 2010).
Regardless of copyright, educators often turn to “fair use” which allows the use of copyright-protected materials when it meets four requirements, all of which can be interpreted by the court system (Waxer & Baum, 2007). It can be considered “fair use” if  (1) it is for a nonprofit, education, news, criticism, commentary, parody, research, or scholarship, (2) it is a fact, non-fiction published work, (3) only a small amount of the work is used, and it is not the key part of it, and (4) it has no positive or negative affect on the market (Waxer & Baum, 2007).
The Teach Act was passed to help educators with online copyrights and the distance educational sector that has evolved into a global Internet influence (Christopher, 2004). While not perfect, and often confusing, the Teach Act allows some uses of copyright-protected materials. One of the requirements that is quite limiting within the educational sphere is that the institution must be an accredited nonprofit organization (Crews, 2002).  This excludes numerous "for-profit" educational institutions which cannot use the Teach Act (The Teach Act). Perhaps this was an oversight on the law makers, or was done intentionally, though the need for a more open usage in educational spheres should include "for-profit"schools. Another round of lawmaking will have to examine those needs and rights. Under the protection of the Teach Act, nonprofit educational systems may use non-dramatic literary or musical works, or reasonable portions of any work (Christopher, 2004).  However, the amount used must be limited to the amount in a live classroom setting, must be transmitted under the supervision of an instructor as part of class session and must be part of instructional activities. The transmission must be limited to enrolled students and efforts to prevent retention by students must be enforced. Analog works may be digitized if there are not digital copies available (Crews, 2002).
If the work you intend to use for educational purposes does not fit into these categories for protection, then you must identify the copyright holders and obtain permission for the use (Waxer 7 Baum, 2007). All owners must be contacted, and can include more than one author, museum, business, or owner. Be sure to identify your needs when addressing the copyright holder and as for permission in writing (Waxer & Baum, 2007).  If fees are required this should be documented in writing as well. Most educational institutions have a procedure that must be followed for this process.
Educators may create their own works and register them with the copyright office if they do not have a "work for hire" clause in their contracts. Otherwise you must carefully navigate the copyright usage jungle, and secure the permissions as needed. 


Calter, M. (n.d.). Stanford University Libraries and Academic Resources. Copyright. Renewal Database. Retrieved from http://collections.stanford.edu/copyrightrenewals/bin/page?forward=home

Christopher, A. (2004). The TEACH Act: Higher education challenges for compliance. Educase Center for Applied Research, (13). Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/erb0413.pdf

Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. § 101 (2012). Retrieved from http://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap1.html

Crews, D. (2002). Amercian Library Association. New copyright law for distance education: The meaning and importance of the TEACH Act. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/PrinterTemplate.cfm?Section=distanceed&Template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=25939

Gasaway, L. (2011). University of North Carolina. When U.S. works pass into the public domain. Retrieved from http://www.unc.edu/~unclng/public-d.htm

Stim, R. (2010). Stanford University Libraries: Copyright & Fair Use. Overview and Resources. Retrieved from http://fairuse.stanford.edu/Copyright_and_Fair_Use_Overview/

Waxer, B. M., & Baum, M. L. (2007). Copyright on the Internet. Boston, MA: Thomson Course Technology.

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