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Copyright Myths

  • False. While copying a small amount of a copyright protected work may not be a copyright infringement, there are no clear rules regarding what constitutes permitted use of small amounts of copyright protected materials. In one case, a magazine article that used 300 words from a 200,000-word biography written by President Gerald Ford was found to infringe the copyright of Ford’s 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 autobiography. Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. v. Nation Enterprises, 471 U.S. 539 (1985).

  • False. Copyright law distinguishes between ownership of the copyright in a work and ownership of a copy of the work, such as a tape, 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.

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

  • False. Copying for educational or non-profit use may qualify as fair use in some cases; but it does not automatically in all cases. The type of use is only one of the factors that determine whether a use is fair or not. All of the four factors of fair use 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.

    When permission is needed and obtained, many copyright owners/publishers will often 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.

  • 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 for 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]

  • 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, 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 use material protected by copyright without the copyright owner’s permission.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • False. Copyright protection is effectively never lost, unless 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.