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Copyright Decisions

Answering the questions below will help you determine if permission is needed for a particular use of copyrighted material.

Some suggest the golden rule of copyright: “If you were the copyright owner of the material you are about to use, would you see the use as fair (not needing your permission) and not expect to be asked for permission?”

Keep in mind that copyright law is intended to be format neutral. There may be specific considerations in analyzing the use of copyrighted material in analog (paper) or digital format; however, if a use is allowed (or not) in analog format, a similar use would generally be allowed (or not) in digital format.

  • If you created the content and have retained copyright ownership, you can use it. The BYU Intellectual Property Policy provides more information regarding copyright ownership at BYU.

  • In many instances you can use content that is legally available to the public online or accessible through the HBLL Electronic Journal Subscriptions database by simply linking to it.

  • A. Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States by Peter Hirtle, Cornell University, is a useful chart for determining the copyright status of works published in the United States. Most items published in the U.S. before 1923 are in the public domain; they can be used without permission or the payment of any royalty fees.
    B. Materials created and published by employees of the federal government are in the public domain and are not protected by copyright.
    C. Materials clearly and explicitly donated to the public domain can be freely used without permission.
    D. The following are not protected by copyright:

    1. Materials not fixed in a tangible medium.
    2. Titles, names, short phrases, slogans or familiar symbols and designs.
    3. Typographical designs, lettering, coloring or listing of ingredients
    4. Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries or devices
    5. Information that is common property with no original authorship, such as calendars, height/weight charts, etc.
  • Materials may be already licensed (permission given) by the copyright owner for your planned use, such as a Creative Commons license or the copyright information, terms of use or use information or similar wording on a website. Click and read these links; you may discover that nonprofit educational uses are permitted.
    Smithsonian:, Permitted Uses
    Wikipedia: Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

  • Fair Use-Section 107
    The purpose of the fair use provision is to allow limited use of copyrighted material without obtaining permission from the copyright owner. To apply fair use to your situation, conduct a reasoned analysis considering all of the fair use factors explained in the Fair Use section of this website.

    Classroom Performances and Displays-Including Digital Transmissions

    • Face-To-Face Classroom: Section 110 (1)
      • Educators and students may perform or display a copyrighted work in the course of face-to-face teaching at a nonprofit educational institution in a classroom or other place normally devoted to instruction. There are no restrictions on the type or length of work and the copyright owner’s permission is not necessary.
    • Distance Education-including digital transmission: Section 110 (2) (TEACH)
      • Section 110 (2) was recently revised by enactment of The Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization Act (TEACH) which allows the digital transmission of performances and displays of copyrighted works, without having to obtain prior permission from the copyright owner, as part of synchronous or asynchronous distance education applications if specific requirements are met. See the Teaching and Copyright section of this website for more information. A Checklist for Compliance with the TEACH Act is also helpful or contact the Copyright Licensing Office.
  • Your proposed specific use of material protected by copyright will effect whether you can claim an exception (limitation on exclusive rights) thus not needing permission. Generally, the larger the proportion of the copyrighted work you use and the broader the copying and distribution of the copyrighted work, the more likely you will need to seek permission. For example, posting a complete copy of a copyrighted work on a public website would in most instances require permission.Section 106 of the U.S. copyright law gives the owner of a copyright the exclusive rights to do and to authorize others to do the following:

    1. to reproduce the work
    2. to prepare derivative works based upon the work
    3. to distribute copies of the work to the public by sale or transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending
    4. to perform the work publicly
    5. to display the copyrighted work publicly
    6. in the case of sound recordings, to perform the work publicly by means of digital audio transmission in the case of a “work of visual art” the author has certain rights of attribution and integrity
    7. in the case of a “work of visual art” the author has certain rights of attribution and integrity

    Whenever your proposed use of material protected by copyright goes beyond what is allowed by exceptions (limitations on exclusive rights) contained in the U.S. Copyright Law, permission should be obtained. The two exceptions most applicable to educational uses are explained next.

  • Summary: “All members of the BYU community—faculty, staff, students, volunteers, and patrons—are expected to respect the rights of copyright owners as established by relevant state and federal laws. Members of the BYU community who disregard the Copyright Policy may be in violation of the Church Educational System Honor Code; may jeopardize their employment; may place themselves at risk for possible legal action; and may incur personal liability.” See the complete policy.

Copyright Decision Flowchart

Faculty: This  Copyright Decision Flowchart will help you decide if permission is needed.

Students: This  Student Copyright Decision Aid will help you decide if permission is needed.