Your Frequently Asked Copyright Questions.
What is protected by copyright?
All original works including webpages, books, movies, blog posts, drawings and photographs, songs, software, plays, journal articles, and architecture, once they are fixed in tangible form. (That is, written down or otherwise recorded.)
The exceptions are:
- Works that are old enough for copyright to have expired. These have "fallen into the public domain" and are free to use. In 2023, that is anything published before 1928.
- Works by the United States government. Also some state government documents, but that varies by state.
In some cases, the author of a work has pre-authorized copy and use of their work. This is usually done through Creative Commons licenses, which give users the right to copy works, or to copy and republish them, or to copy and revise and republish them. The work is still covered by copyright, but the creator has given permission in advance to the world to do certain things with their work.
If an item may be copyrighted, you may still be able to copy part of it for your class, if your use is Fair Use. (See "What is Fair Use" below.)
What can I copy for my class?
You are allowed to make copies of portions of a work for your class if your use is Fair Use. This is from RTC's Photocopying of Copyrighted Materials policy: "Current copyright laws permit non-profit educational institutions to photocopy copyrighted materials under certain limited conditions:
- Poetry: A complete poem if less than 250 words (not to exceed two pages) or an excerpt of not more than 250 words from a longer poem.
- Prose: A complete article, story or essay of less than 2,500 words or an excerpt from any work of prose of not more than 1,000 words or 10% of the work, whichever is less.
- Illustration: One chart, graph, diagram, drawing, cartoon or picture per book or per periodical issue."
How do I get something photocopied for my RTC class?
Define Fair Use. How can I tell if my use is Fair Use?
Fair Use limits the right of the copyright holder, by allowing the public to use parts of a copyrighted work “for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research....” (Circular 21.) So you can quote a work in order to review it, comment on it, report on it, study it, research findings - and teach with it.
The catch is that Fair Use is not defined. It's a balancing test and you need to decide if your use is more fair than unfair. To do this you have to look at four factors, and decide if your use is Fair Use. If it isn't, you can't make those copies. The four factors are:
- The purpose of the use.
- The nature of the original item.
- The amount of the work used.
- The effect on the market for the work.
What to see what this balancing test looks like? This is an online form that helps you identify if your use is Fair Use or not: The Fair Use Checklist.
(Note: even if you feel your use is Fair Use, the Print Shop will only print the amounts allowed by the Photocopying of Copyrighted Materials policy.)
What do I do if I need to copy more than the law allows?
- You can request permission from the copyright holder to copy more. (For more information, please see below the FAQ "How do I ask for permission to copy more than Fair Use allows?" below.)
- You can create your own resource based on this resource. (Be sure to credit the original writer with a citation.)
- You can look for another source that has comparable information and use that for your next class.
- You can contact the Copyright Clearance Center. For a fee they will arrange for legal copies.
Show me the Copyright law.
How do I ask for permission to copy more than Fair Use allows?
Contact the copyright holder by email or letter to ask permission to copy more. Your request should contain:
- Your name and address
- The title of the item you would like to copy
- How many copies you want to make
- For what purpose these copies will be used
- And thank them for their consideration.
- If the answer is yes, keep the reply for your records. If the answer is no, then talk to the library about other ways of meeting your classroom need. You can reach us at Librarian@RTC.edu.
If you cannot find, or cannot come to an agreement with, the copyright holder consider contacting the Copyright Clearance Center. For a fee they will arrange for legal extra copies. (Check to make sure your department has a budget for this.)
What DVDs can I show in class?
If a work comes with public performance rights (PPR) you can show it anywhere on campus, for any audience. If it doesn't have PPR, you can show any DVD in your classroom if your use meets the following six conditions:
- It has to be shown in the classroom (a regular classroom or lab - wherever you meet.)
- It has to be show in the course of face-to-face teaching activities.
- For instructional purposes.
- Only to your students.
- The copy you’re using must be lawfully acquired.
- It has to be shown by the instructor, guest lecturer, or by students as a part of their class work.
See this Face-to-Face Classroom Exemption flowchart from Utah Valley University for a visual representation of this decision process.
You can stream videos from RTC's Kanopy subscription in your classroom too.
What can I put in Canvas?
- Open Educational Resources can be put into Canvas in any format the work's Creative Commons license allows. Public domain works can be used in any way you wish.
- It's best not to keep copies of copyrighted items (that aren't OER) in your Canvas classes quarter after quarter. Consider putting in a link to the article in the database or webpage, rather than posting a PDF. Or send the link to the article to students via email.
- You can link to YouTube or other online videos, as long as you believe the item does not contain copyright-infringing material.
There is a law called the TEACH Act, which allows more latitude when it comes to what can be posted in an online class, but Renton Technical College is not currently TEACH Act compliant. (The TEACH Act requirements are lengthy. See The TEACH Act checklist.)
If something is available on the internet and doesn't have a copyright mark, can I use it freely?
You can link to it. You cannot freely copy it. Unless it is clearly marked as creative commons, or as a product of the U.S. government, it is covered by copyright.
Where do I get help figuring out my particular copyright and Fair Use situation?
Try these online resources:
Or contact RTC Library: librarian@RTC.edu or 425-235-2331. RTC librarians aren't lawyers; they do not give legal advice. But they can tell you what they think, based on years of copyright study.
Is student work protected by copyright?
Yes. If you would like to make copies of an excellent piece of student work for the benefit of your future classes, request permission. Send the student an email and be sure to keep their reply for your records.
Does copyright apply to Open Educational Resources and how can I use them in my class?
Open Educational Resources is a broad term that covers:
- Materials that were never covered by copyright, such as US Federal government materials. These can be used however you wish in your class.
- Materials that were covered by copyright when they were created, but the copyright term has expired and the items are now in the public domain. These can be used however you wish in your class.
- Materials that have been given Creative Commons licenses, that are covered by copyright but the author(s) have pre-authorized copying, or copying and revising, or copying, revising, and republishing. These can be used as the Creative Commons license specifies.
What are best practices in regards to copyright?
- Make sure your use is Fair Use before you request copies.
- If you think your use isn't Fair Use, then ask permission from the copyright owner to make additional copies.
- In an online environment, linking to an item is always acceptable, unless you have reason to believe the item is infringing on someone's copyright.
- Choosing OER items or items with Creative Commons Licenses will save you many copyright headaches.
Still have a copyright question? Please contact RTC Library.
Email us with your copyright questions at librarian@RTC.edu, or call us at (425) 235-2331.