Copyright protects the rights of authors and creators to earn money and claim authorship and ownership over things that they have created. Copyright can also be given away or sold.

For students, faculty, and staff, the most important thing to remember is that just because you can read it online or in a book doesn’t mean you can copy images or text. That image or text belongs to the original authors. However, you can use limited amounts of text and images to support your own writings according to the principle of Fair Use.

Fair use is the use of copyrighted materials for the following reasons: scholarship, private study, research, parody, commentary, teaching, or news reporting. The fair use status of copying is determined by four major factors.

  • What did you copy?
  • Why did you copy?
  • How much did you copy?
  • Did your copying impact the market for the original?

There is no set legal limit on how much you can copy, however, most people agree that you should do your best to use as little as possible. Your papers and publications should be mostly your thoughts and words, not someone else’s.

Copyright for Instructors

Copyright errs towards Fair Use when it comes to instruction, however, due to licensing agreements, databases may not share the same standards as Federal Law. Because of these agreements, some items are only available via Schoology or course reserve. Keep in mind that copying for students you are advising or who are in your class falls under fair use, but publicly publishing a copyrighted work does not.

Intellectual Property

Intellectual property is a set of laws that determines a market for ideas that people express.
This means that all ideas that are expressed can be protected by law. Physical objects like inventions or computer code fall under patent law. Works of art or analysis are covered under copyright law. Books that you read in class, articles that you use for your research, videos you watch, photographs you share, and music you listen to are all covered by copyright.

According to Title 17 of the U.S. Code, copyright covers any expression of an idea that is in a fixed format. So if you can save it (fix it) into a copy that can be shared, it is under copyright.

Things not under copyright:

  • Facts (i.e. You cannot copyright “the sky is blue”)
  • Ideas (i.e. You cannot copyright the idea “The meaning of life is….”)
  • Things in the public domain

Appropriate Use

Legal Language

The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material.

Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives can furnish a photocopy or other reproduction. One of these specified conditions is that the photocopy or reproduction is not to be “used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research.” If a user requests for, or later uses, a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in excess of “fair use,” that user may be liable for copyright infringement.

This institution reserves the right to refuse to accept a copying order if, in its judgment, fulfillment of the order would be a violation of copyright law.

The person using library equipment is liable for any infringement.

In Non-Legalese

Copyrighted material is available for use, but not copying unless for private study, scholarship, or research. This means that you can read, listen to, watch, and play these items, but you cannot copy them unless you use them according to fair use as defined by Title 17 of the United States Code.


Just because it’s on a disc, doesn’t mean you can copy it legally. Please do not copy library resources without permission from the copyright holders. You are responsible for your own use.


Just because we provide photocopiers, doesn’t mean you have the right to infringe copyright. You are responsible for your own use.

Electronic Copies

Just because we provide electronic copies of books and other literature does not mean you can infringe copyright. You are responsible for your own use.

Interlibrary Loan

Borrowing items from a library does not transfer ownership of those items to the requestor or to Hedberg Library, so use of those materials must comply with copyright guidelines. Typically, reproduction of 10% of an item, or one journal article from a journal volume is considered within copyright and fair use guidelines. Library staff will not make copies of requested interlibrary loan materials for Carthage users.

Public Domain

Items in the public domain are no longer covered by copyright. Not everything on the internet is in the public domain. The public domain consists of works that are usually old or did not fulfill the requirements for extended copyright. Most items are under copyright for the life of the creator plus 70 years.

Some good examples are:

  • All items published before 1923 are in the public domain.
  • Unpublished, unregistered works with no author: 120 years after date of creation.

Author’s Guide to Copyright

Have you created something original recently? Written an excellent paper and you’re getting published? Wrote down anything at all? Good for you, you are now classified as an author under copyright law!

Authors need to look at copyright a little differently than everyone else. As a creator of an original work, you now have additional rights that are covered by copyright law. Your rights fall into two categories: Economic and Moral.

Your rights are as follows in the United States:

Economic Rights

  • Profit from your work
  • Transfer ownership to your work (Not authorship, just the copyright).
  • Create authorized copies
  • Authorize Performance and Translation

Moral Right

Right to be identified as the author

Your rights last for your lifetime plus 70 years after your death. You do not need to register your copyright for this to be the case. The only requirement for copyright to be asserted is that the work is in a fixed form.

There are a number of ways to protect your copyright in the United States.

First, you can register your work with the copyright office at There is additional information on the site regarding copyright registration, transfer, and other copyright resources.

Second, you can register your work with Creative Commons. Creative Commons is a non-profit licensing group that allows you to set usage licenses for works you create. Many of these allow the reuse of your work in various formats. To choose an appropriate license for you, go to visit

Third, if you publish in an academic journal, consider adding a SPARC addendum to your publication agreement. This addendum is a starting point for negotiations between you and the editors of a journal over what rights you wish to retain and which you wish to share with the publisher. Learn more on SPARC’s website

Fourth, consider publishing in an Open Access Journal. Open access uses a combination of Creative Commons and regulation to make academic literature available to the public. These items can include books, academic articles, white papers, and other literature. There are Open Access Journals for almost every discipline.


If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact the library. Library advice and copyright information contained herein is not legal advice and it is recommended that for serious concerns, you retain legal counsel.