Q. How long does copyright last?

A. As the copyright law was amended, the number of years that copyright protection was available increased. After expiration of a copyright, a work enters the public domain and can be freely copied. If the work was published (publicly distributed) more than 75 years ago, it is safe to assume it is in the public domain. If the work was created but not published or copyrighted prior to January 1, 1978, the term of copyright is life of the author plus 50 years. If the work is published before 2002, the term will last at least until December 31, 2027.

A unique interpretation of a work in the public domain may be copyrightable. Also, a revised edition of a work starts the count anew, at least for the new material.

Q. What role does a copyright notice play?

A. Until 1989, a published work had to contain a valid copyright notice to receive protection under the copyright laws. But this requirement is no longer enforced — works first published after March 1, 1989 need not include a copyright notice to gain protection under the law.

Q. Can a student create a Web site or other school project using various materials that are protected by copyright and used without permission?

A. Maybe. It is necessary to consider why the student is creating the Web site, the nature of the various materials, the amount used, and the effect on the market. Each use should be evaluated separately. In general, if a student is creating a Web site as part of a course requirement and the final product is not made publicly accessible, uploaded to the Web for example, it is considered fair use.

Q. Is there such a thing as personal fair use?

A. Yes. The fair use doctrine allows individuals to make a copy of lawfully obtained copyrighted works for her personal use. For example, one can copy a lawfully acquired cassette to disc format. Copying favorite songs from ones own collection to an alternative format to make a music compilation is within the law. Folks also exercise personal fair use when they videotape a television program to view at a later time. However, it is not lawful for people to upload music to the Internet for others to download or copy.

Q. Can library users print materials found on the Internet or from library databases?

A. In general, this is lawful. Library databases are licensed from vendors and not owned by the library so each has their own conditions and restrictions for use outlined in a contract.

Q. Suppose a publication includes a notice: All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without prior permission of the publisher. Is this true?

A. No, for educational institutions, reproduction exemptions in the copyright law and fair use guidelines still apply.

Q. A faculty member will teach a course in Tibet next semester and wants to use some of the same video recordings there but the tapes are in NTSC format and Tibet TV is in incompatible PAL format. Can a copy be transferred into the PAL format to be viewed in class there?

A. Copies of materials in different formats may be made if:
-The original copy is an obsolete format meaning that the equipment needed for playback is no longer made or not readily available.
-A reasonable effort is made to obtain a replacement copy in the needed format, and the copy is not obtainable at a reasonable cost.

Q. Can a copy be made of a Web page?

A. Web sites may not post a notice of copyright but nevertheless they receive automatic copyright protection as soon as they are fixed in a tangible medium.

Q. A faculty member records a weekly network television program which uses technical language being studied in classes. Are there restrictions?

A. -The recording must include the copyright notice.
-The use must take place in a space devoted to instruction
-The videotape must be destroyed within 45 days after recording.
-The original contents of the program cannot be altered.

Q. A faculty records a PBS program (or A&E, Learning Channel, etc.). Are there limitations?

A. Television programs may be recorded. The guidelines do not apply to programs available only from cable television services such as: Showtime, HBO, C-Span, etc. The tape may be viewed only during the first ten school days after it is made. The above restrictions apply also. If a faculty plans to continually use the program, please request purchase of the videorecording from the Acquisitions Department.

Q. The college uses part of a Beatles’ album as background music in a tribute to the retiring president. Is this permissive use?

A. Teachers or students can use entire songs as background music in multimedia presentations if the presentation is for an educational use in an educational setting.

Q. A book ordered by a faculty member for their course is not available at the bookstore for the start of classes. Can the book be scanned for electronic reserve?

A. No. The portion used in relation to the work as a whole exceeds 10%. This does not fall within the fair use guidelines.

Q. May multiple chapters from the same book be placed on electronic reserve?

A. Possibly. If the portion used is less than 10% of the larger work it may be copied.

Q. A faculty member requests that an entire play be scanned and placed on electronic reserve. Is this allowable under the copyright law?

A. Dramatic works are protected by copyright law thus cannot be copied entirely; this does not meet the condition of brevity within the fair use guidelines.

Q. A teacher wants his students to read a full article, in PDF format, from an online journal to which the college library subscribes. Can he save the article to his computer and then upload it to his onCourse site for students to download?

A. He must check to see if access to the article is under a license agreement from the publisher. The terms of the license control how the material may be used. Often, the teacher may make articles available to students from a course web page through a direct link.

If the article is not under a license agreement then fair use may be considered. Controls that restrict the use of the resource must be employed so that just the students enrolled in the class have access to the article.

Q. An instructor wants to use many chapters from an expensive book for her class. In order to save students money, can she upload a PDF file of the material to her onCourse site for students to read to complete assignments?

A. No, this is not fair use because the publisher of the textbook will be deprived of sales. The market is affected, which is one of the four factors of fair use to consider. The book may be placed on reserve.

Questions about copyright law? Contact:

Kate Boylan
Director, Archives & Digital Initiatives
boylan_kate@wheatoncollege.edu; x5821
Lauren Slingluff
Interim Dean & Director, Collections & Resources
slingluff_lauren@wheatoncollege.edu; x3733


The creator of this page provides the Wheaton College campus with copyright information and guidelines but it is not offered as professional legal advise.