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Copyright Basics  

An overview of basic information about U.S. Copyright Law for Gallaudet University students, faculty, and staff.
Last Updated: Jun 2, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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Welcome to the Gallaudet Copyright Libguide

This guide is the place to go for comprehensive information about copyright.  
It includes:

  • Guidelines
  • Links to resources
  • Updates on relevant legal cases.

Questions? Send them to me (my contact information is in the box on the right) and I'll do my best to find answers for you.

Please note that I am not an attorney and cannot provide legal advice. My role is to assist you in finding answers to your copyright questions and to lead you to resources that can help you make your own decisions regarding copyright.

Click any of the links below to learn about:


Copyright Basics

These are the slides used for the Library's fall 2009 workshop "Copyright Basics."


What is Copyright?

Copyright is defined as "the exclusive legal right to reproduce, publish, sell, or distribute the matter and form of something (as a literary, musical, or artistic work)."

Retrieved May 26, 2009, from

In practical terms, copyright is the legal guardianship of original works of authorship. It protects writers, artists, filmmakers, and composers from potential theft of their work.  Some see copyright only as a restriction that prevents one from freely reproducing articles or film clips for classes, but think about it from the author's point of view.  If you make a great film or write a wonderful play, would you want people to be able to reproduce and distribute it without getting your permission or paying you for your work? That's the real purpose of copyright law. It gives authors the right to control their own work. 


What's the Purpose of Copyright Law?

Many people see copyright law as a set of restrictions designed to prevent them from getting access to resource they need for teaching, research, and creative/productive work. That's not at all true. The original intent of copyright law was to protect individuals' intellectual property and to encourage creative output. When an individual creates something (a book, a film, a piece of art, a song, etc.) the creator should have the sole right to profit from that creation.  Copyright law provides the protection that allows creators to profit from their work.


What's the Penalty for Violating Copyright Law?

There are no set penalties for copyright infringement. If someone believes someone else has used his copyrighted work without permission the first step is usually direct contact. That means the copyright owner may contact you and say "I see in your book/film/photograph/presentation you quoted directly from my article/uploaded a clip from my film/showed my sculpture/used two of my photographs."  Please stop using my intellectual property without my permission. If you respond quickly and either pay appropriate royalty fees for using the material or cease using it that is often the end of the story. It is possible, however, that the copyright owner could initiate legal action, filing a lawsuit to force you to cease using the copyrighted material and, possibly, seeking damages. It is important to understand that both individuals and their parent instutitions can be held liable for copyright violations.

The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 requires universities to inform students of the possible penalties for copyright infringement. The US Department of Education provides information about the penalties in a formal statement:

Copyright infringement is the act of exercising, without permission or legal authority, one or more of the exclusive rights granted to the copyright owner under section 106 of the Copyright Act (Title 17 of the United States Code). These rights include the right to reproduce or distribute a copyrighted work. In the file-sharing context, downloading or uploading substantial parts of a copyrighted work without authority constitutes an infringement.

Penalties for copyright infringement include civil and criminal penalties. In general, anyone found liable for civil copyright infringement may be ordered to pay either actual damages or "statutory" damages affixed at not less than $750 and not more than $30,000 per work infringed. For "willful" infringement, a court may award up to $150,000 per work infringed. A court can, in its discretion, also assess costs and attorneys' fees. For details, see Title 17, United States Code, Sections 504, 505.

Willful copyright infringement can also result in criminal penalties, including imprisonment of up to five years and fines of up to $250,000 per offense.

For more information, please see the Web site of the U.S. Copyright Office at, especially their FAQ's at

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