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Questions About Copyright

Tomorrow's Research

Message Number: 


More than ever academics need to pay attention to copyright issues in

their own writing and in the use of material in class and on the

world wide web. Below are brief answers to some common questions

about copyright as seen from the perspective of United States law.

The material is from, Keys to Academic and Business Success by

Kenneth T. Henson, Eastern Kentucky University, Allyn and Bacon,

Boston, Copyright 1999 Allyn & Bacon A Viacom Company, Needham

Heights, MA 02194, pp. 128-130. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

UP NEXT: Balancing Faculty Roles

Tomorrow's Research


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1. Exactly what is meant by copyright? Copyright is the legal right that

all authors and other artists have to prohibit others from copying their

work. Some of the copyright laws have changed, making the author's job of

keeping up with them challenging.

2. How long is the copyright valid? The time of endurance of copyright

has changed. The length of coverage depends on the date of the copyright.

To determine whether a work is still under copyright protection, first

check the date to see if it is before 1950. If so, the work will be under

protection for 75 years beyond the copyright date. For works published

between 1950 and 1977, the copyright will endure for 56 years. For works

published since 1978, the copyright extends throughout the life of the

author plus 50 years.

3. Are all published works subject to copyright laws? No. Works such as

government documents are under public domain. This means that you can use

them as you wish, but to help the reader locate these works and to show

professional courtesy to their authors, you should always cite the source.

4. Can I ever quote copyrighted works without securing permission? Yes.

Fair-use guidelines permit you to quote up to 300 words from a book. You

can also quote up to 10 percent of an article. But should you wish to quote

from a poem or song, be careful; the laws are more restrictive for these

works. Diagrams, charts, and photos also require permission, regardless how

small or how few you are using. Photos also require signed releases or

permission from each recognizable person. Children's photos require

signatures of the child's parent or guardian. At best, most of the

copyright laws are "fuzzy," leaving you the responsibility to use your own

judgment to determine what is honest and fair.

5. Does this mean that I should avoid using ideas and facts that I have

discovered in books and journals? No. Facts and ideas themselves are

not copyrighted. Many beginning authors limit themselves

unnecessarily because they are afraid to use ideas that they may have

read in a book, magazine, or other printed material.

For example, suppose you are writing about the water cycle: Rain turns into

runoff, which eventually evaporates, later condensing to form clouds, which

in turn condense to form rain. This is a well-known process, and you need

not quote any source or ask for permission to use it. But if you wish to

lift a description of the process verbatim from a book or magazine, this

would require permission.

You could also draw a graphic representation of the water cycle without

seeking permission, but if you want to copy an existing diagram, you will

need to seek permission.

6. To whom should I write for permission? First, notice who holds the

copyright. If you can tell that it is the publisher, write the publisher.

If it is the author, you still may need to write to the publisher to secure

the author's address

7. How Can I Gel My Works Copyrighted? There are three ways a writer can get

copyright protection. You could write the copyright office at:

Register of Copyrights

Copyright Office

Library of Congress

Washington/ DC 20559 .

A second way to get copyright protection is just to put a small c inside a

circle, followed by the date on your new work.

Example: @ 1994 by Hilda Monza

A third way to get copyright protection is just to write down your ideas

and then do nothing. As soon as you put your ideas into writing, the

writing itself automatically becomes subject to copyright laws.