This is the "Using Copyrighted Material" page of the "Copyright Basics" guide.
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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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How to Reproduce Copyrighted Material

Much of what you might want to reproduce for a class presentation, a film project, course reserves, or for general research is protected by copyright.  But that protection doesn't necessarily mean you can't use the copyrighted material the way you want. Of course if you can find a similar item in the public domain it's best and easiest to use that, if it will meet your needs.  If you cannot find something in the public domain that will work, there are some ways to reproduce a work that is protected by copyright.  

This page lists all the possibilities, but keep in mind that there will be times when it simply is not possible to reproduce a copyrighted work.



Licenses are available for some types of copyrighted material that allow for its use.  Licenses are formal agreements that give permission to an individual or organization to do something -- in this case permission to use copyrighted material. Take videos, for example. DVDs are generally sold to individuals for home use only.  Look carefully and you will probably find a statement that reads something like "Licensed for private home viewing only.  Any other use prohibited." (The statement may appear on the disc itself or on the film.) Most videos are sold for home use only, and any public viewing of the video is not permitted.  You may put that DVD in your player at home and show it to a few family members or friends, but you may not project it on a big screen for a neighborhood block party or show it to a group of students on campus as part of a Friday night video series.  If you want to do either of those things, which in copyright terms are considered public performances, you must purchase a video with a license for public performance rights. 

If you've ever used one of the Library's electronic databases like Proquest Research Library or Ebscohost: Academic Search Premier you have taken advantage of licensed use of copyrighted material. Companies pay royalties to make the copyrighted material available on their datbases, and libraries sign license agreements that allow their students, faculty, and staff access to that material.




Request Permission

It's often possible (and sometimes the only option) to get permission from the copyright owner to reproduce copyrighted material. This can be complicated, and it often takes a long time for copyright owners to respond to requests, but if other options have been exhausted permission may be the only way for you to reproduce copyrighted material. Here's what you need to know:

  • Find the copyright owner. If the item has a copyright notice that's the best place to start, but even then you may have to search more -- sometimes copyright ownership changes. If there is no copyright notice contact the author, creator, publisher, or producer, production company, etc. to try to find out who owns the copyright.
  • If an individual holds the copyright you will need to find contact information.  Sometimes you can get that from the publisher or producer, but if that doesn't work a search engine like Google or Yahoo may help.
  • If a publisher or production company (a corporate entity of some kind) holds the copyright, search the organization's web site for information about seeking copyright permissions. Follow any instructions you find there. If the site has no specific instructions about copyright permissions, look for contact information about rights, permissions, or copyright.  If there is none, use the general contact information to call or e-mail asking who is responsible for copyright permissions requests.
  • Once you've determined who you think owns the copyright and the owner doesn't provide a form or guidelines for permission requests you'll need to write a letter requesting permission. Be as specific as possible. Your letter should include:
    • the complete title and full information about the material you want to copy (author, publication/production date, publisher, chapter, page numbers, scene info/DVD track numbers, etc.)
    • a careful and complete description of what kind of reproduction you plan to make and how it will be displayed or performed
    • a description of the audience that will have access to the copy you make and, if known, the number of people in that audience
    • a brief explanation of the setting in which you plan to use the material (classroom, film festival,etc.)
  • If you receive permission, be sure to save a copy of the document you received, and be sure to follow any restrictions imposed by the copyright owner.
  • And finally, copyright owners are under no obligation to grant permission for others to use their work. It does not matter how essential it is to your work -- the copyright owner has the right to deny or ignore your request for permission.



Blanket Permissions

Blanket permissions provide broad and somewhat open access to copyrighted material.  In some cases a copyrighted item will display a statement that indicates that the material may be reproduced without permission. Often that permission is granted to a limited group (non-profit or educational organizations, for example), for a particular use (educational use only, for example), or with some restrictions (the copy must credit the copyright owner and include the statement "used with permission," for example.).  Sometimes blanket permissions are granted to a specific organization. 

Bread for the World's Background Paper "Global Development:Charting a New Course" is an example of a document that may be reproduced with a blanket permission. (See the statement at the bottom of the last page.)


Showing Films

Want to show a film to a group or class on campus? If the film is in the public domain you may show the film without restriction. If the film is not in the public domain you must consider whether or not you need to get permission to show it to a group.

If you are showing the film in a classroom to a class you do not need special permission.

If you plan to show a film to a group on campus, either for a specific group (a club, for example) or as an open screening, you must get permission to do that. Permission for "performance rights" can be obtained at the point of purchase (buy the film with performance rights) OR by seeking permission from the copyright holder for the performance.

The web sites below have good information about copyright and public performances of films.

Williams College Library Public

Enoch Pratt Free Library



Fair Use

Fair Use may be one of the most misunderstood concepts in U.S. Copyright Law. Many assume that Fair Use means an individual may use copyrighted material as long as he doesn't receive any financial gain from that use. Others believe it provides educators unrestricted use of copyrighted material. Neither is correct. For more information about Fair use see the Fair Use section of this LibGuide.


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