What kind of expression is copyrightable?
Copyrightable expression is original authorship, fixed in a tangible medium of expression.
Q: What is copyright?
Q: How long does copyright last?
Q: How do I get copyright protection?
Q: Who owns a copyright?
Q: What is work-for-hire?
Q: Can multiple authors hold copyright?
Q: Do students hold copyright for the materials they authored in class?
It can sometimes be difficult to identify copyright owners. The following structure can provide you with a systematic approach to the task:
Below are some resources that are useful when trying to identify a copyright owner:
If you've tried and you can't identify authors (or their estates), business owners, or can't successfully contact them, you probably have an "orphan work." If you're running into trouble finding the contact information for a work, you can always reach out to a librarian (libref @ beloit.edu) for help tracking down the owner or finding an alternative source.
I am writing to request permission to copy [identify work or excerpt to be copied] for use in my class, [name of class], during the _________ semester. [Or explain other purpose.] A copy of the article [or “excerpt and copyright page”] is enclosed. [Unless all of this is clear from the enclosure, you should identify: (1) the author’s, editor’s or translator’s full name(s), (2) the title, edition and volume where applicable; (3) the copyright date, (4) the ISBN/ISSN number, if known, and (4) the exact page numbers or images you wish to reproduce.]
I anticipate an enrollment of approximately ___ students in the course and wish to provide a copy for each of them. [Or, “and wish to place a copy of your work in an electronic reserve, password protected so that only these students may retrieve it.”] [If applicable: “The students will be charged only for the cost of reproduction.” OR “We would provide these copies to the students without charge.”]
[Please let me know if there is a fee for reproducing this work in this manner.] [I appreciate your assistance.]
Permission to use copyrighted material. (2022). Washington University in St. Louis, retrieved from website.
Even if you are unable to find the copyright owner, the material is still protected by copyright law.
While it is possible that a thoroughly documented unsuccessful search for an owner would positively affect the balance of the fair use test under the fourth factor or lessen a damage award even if the court determines that there was an infringement, there are no cases addressing this issue, so it's only a theory.
If you are unable to find the copyright owner, please don't hesitate to reach out to a librarian (libref @ beloit.edu) to see if they are able to help find the holder or search for an alternative source.
Copyright law governs the use of materials you might find on the internet, just as it governs the use of books, video or music in the analog world.
Myth: Many believe that online materials aren't covered by copyright unless they have a copyright notice ©.
Myth: Any textbook that is uploaded to a website can legally be downloaded.
The saving grace: implied and express licenses to use internet materials
Whenever an author posts anything on the internet, he or she should reasonably expect that it will be read, downloaded, printed out, forwarded, and even used as the basis for other works to some degree. So, just by posting online, an author implies a limited license to use their work in this manner. Think about the rights a newspaper editor has to publish a letter to the editor. The author of the letter probably did not include a line in the letter giving the editor an express permission to publish the letter, but anyone who sends such a letter must be presumed to understand that this is what happens to letters to the editor.
On the other hand, most authors would not think that posting a work online automatically gives consent to commercial use of it without permission. This is not part of what one reasonably expects, and so it's not part of the implied license.
Liability for posting infringing works
The proliferation of RIAA lawsuits against individuals for peer-to-peer file-sharing make clear that individuals can be liable for their own actions when they copy and distribute others' copyrighted works without permission. Universities and libraries can also be liable for the actions of their employees doing their jobs and possibly students who access the internet through university machines. This means that universities must pay attention to what their network users are doing, take effective measures to inform them about their responsibilities, and promptly investigate complaints of infringement.
The role of fair use
Fair use plays a critical role in the analog world where duplicating technology is cumbersome and authors make money by controlling copies. It balances authors' rights to reasonable compensation with the public's rights to the ideas contained in copyrighted works. It used to be safe to say that reasonable analog educational, research and scholarly uses were fair uses. But this appears to be changing. Those same activities in the digital world are being challenged, mostly because copyright owners have gone to such lengths to make the rights we need to carry out those activities easy to obtain and reasonably priced through collective licensing (the Copyright Clearance Center, in particular). Still, the main cases in this area have involved commercial entities, so their application to nonprofit educators is far from decided. To the extent that fair use is less clearly applicable than it used to be, reliance on fair use for uses of works we find on the web can be bolstered by reliance on implied and express licenses. Where fair use may be questioned, implied rights may be broader, but an express right to use is best - it's clear and reassuring. It's possible today to search Creative Commons licensed works by license type, or limit your search to be sure that your results include only materials intended for use by educators and students.