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Copyright Myths
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Myth #1: I don’t need permission because I am only using a small amount of the copyrighted work

False. While copying a small amount of a copyright-protected work may not be a copyright infringement, there are no clear rules about which uses of small amounts of copyright-protected materials are permitted. In one case, a magazine article that used 300 words from a 200,000-word autobiography written by President Gerald Ford was found to infringe the copyright of the autobiography. Even though the copied material was only a small part of the autobiography, the copied portions were among the most powerful passages in the book, so the use was not fair. Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. v. Nation Enterprises, 471 U.S. 539 (1985).

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Myth #2: I purchased a book, artwork, photograph, compact disc, or videotape that I’m going to copy, so I already have permission

False. Copyright law distinguishes between ownership of the copyright in a work and ownership of a copy of the work, such as a digital file, compact disc, videotape, book, or photographic print. This ownership of a copy of the copyright-protected work does not give permission to exercise the exclusive rights of the copyright owner. However, you can, without the permission of the copyright owner, “sell or otherwise dispose of” your copy.

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Myth #3: Because I “innocently” infringed I don’t need permission

False. Lack of intent to infringe is not a defense to copyright infringement, nor is ignorance of the copyright law.

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Myth #4: Because I am using someone’s copyrighted works for non-profit educational use, I don’t need permission

False. Copying for educational or non-profit use may qualify as fair use in some cases, but it does not automatically qualify in all cases. The type of use is only one of the factors that determine whether a use is fair or not. All four fair use factors must be considered. Copyright law provides no clear and direct answers about the scope of fair use or its meaning in specific situations. If most factors lean in favor of fair use, the proposed use is probably allowed; if most lean the opposite direction, the use will not fit the fair use exemption and may require permission from the copyright owner. Reliance on a “reasoned” analysis using the Checklist for Fair Use is essential to claiming a good-faith effort. For a detailed explanation of fair use see the Fair Use section of our website.

When permission is needed and requested, copyright owners/publishers will sometimes give permission to non-profit educational institutions without a fee.

The “fair use” concept varies from country to country, and has different names (such as “fair dealing” in Australia and Canada) and other limitations outside the U.S.A.

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Myth #5: The work I want to use doesn’t have a copyright notice on it, so it’s not protected by copyright and I’m free to use it

False. For works published after March 1, 1989, the use of a copyright notice is optional. If a work is published without a copyright notice it doesn’t necessarily mean the work is not protected by copyright.

There are benefits to including a copyright notice, but the law now states “a notice of copyright. . .may be placed on publicly distributed copies” but is not required. The correct form of a copyright notice is:

© or the word “Copyright” [year of first publication] by [author/owner]

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Myth #6: Since I’m planning to give credit to the authors who created the works I copy, I don’t need permission

False. If you give credit to a work’s author, you are not a plagiarist (you are not pretending you authored the copied work). However, you may still be a copyright infringer. Attribution is not a defense to copyright infringement. Plagiarism can occur for material either protected or not protected by copyright simply by incorrectly taking credit for it. Copyright infringement occurs when you wrongfully use material protected by copyright without the copyright owner’s permission.

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Myth #7: I don’t need permission because I am going to alter the work I copy

False. You could still be liable for copyright infringement by altering or modifying the work you copy. You can use elements of works not protected by copyright, but if you copy and modify protected elements of a copyright protected work, you could be infringing the copyright owner’s modification (derivative work) right as well as the duplication right.

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Myth #8: The author of the work that I want to use lives outside of the U.S., so the work is not protected by copyright in the United States

False. Do not assume a work lacks copyright protection in the United States because its author is a non-U.S. author. Non-U.S. authors who live in countries that belong to the Berne Convention or the Universal Copyright Convention automatically obtain copyright protection in the U.S. Most major countries are members of at least one of these conventions.

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Myth #9: If there is no charge for the copies then it is not copyright infringement

False. Not charging for the copies does not automatically make the copying permissible. Since some non-profit educational uses do not qualify as fair use, such organizations are not immune from copyright infringement.

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Myth #10: Material I obtain from the Internet is in the public domain and no permission is required

False. Works protected by copyright are not in the public domain unless the owner explicitly puts them into the public domain, the copyright protection has expired, or the works were created by employees of the federal government. Placing material protected by copyright on the Internet may imply intent by the copyright owner to make the material more widely available, but this does not mean they have granted permission to further duplicate and/or distribute their material.

On many web sites, the web publisher has indicated the allowed uses; check for links identified as copyright information, use information, copyright policy, etc. for an explanation of such permitted uses.

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Myth #11: If I don’t defend my copyright I may lose it

False. Copyright protection is effectively never lost, unless it is explicitly given away or the copyright has expired. However, if you do not actively defend your copyright, there may be broader unauthorized uses than you would like. It is a good idea to pursue enforcement actions as soon as you discover misuse of your copyright protected material.