Frequently Asked Questions
Listed below are frequently asked questions regarding copyright and copyright compliance issues. They have been grouped by topic in order to make the growing list of questions easier to navigate.
Questions marked with an asterisk (*) have been reprinted with the permission of the author, Laura N. Gasaway, Director of the Law Library & Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina. Questions and answers originally appeared in a copyright column published in Against the Grain.
* If a CD-ROM becomes damaged and unplayable, may the library replace it by making another copy from the original or making a copy from another library's original?
Assume the CD is a published work. Under Section 108(c), the library may reproduce a lost, stolen, deteriorating, damaged or obsolete work only if the library first determines by reasonable investigation that an unused copy cannot be obtained at a fair price. After that, the library may make another copy from the original or obtain a reproduction from another library.
* A professor wants to photocopy several cases handed down by the United States Supreme Court. Since U.S. government documents are fair use, how does this apply if he is copying the cases from a textbook, not the Supreme Court Reporter. Does that make any difference?
Actually, the U.S. government documents are public domain rather than fair use which means that the works may be copied, edited, etc. without seeking permission from the copyright owner or applying the four fair use factors. The official U.S. Reports, available from GPO, is a government publication and therefore may be freely reproduced, edited, translated, etc. The Supreme Court Reporter, published by West Publishing Company, is a commercially published law reporter, and it contains features that make the volume copyrightable as a compilation such as the headnotes, the editorial features, and the like. However, if the faculty member copies only the case itself without the headnotes, the text of the court opinion, even from the West publication, is also public domain.
Taking a court opinion from a textbook presents a different issue since most text or casebooks contain edited versions of cases. Has the editor done enough work to qualify the cases as derivatives work that would be separately copyrightable? Perhaps. The faculty member then has several alternatives to stay within the law: (1) reproduce the opinion from the U.S. Reports, (2) reproduce the opinion minus the headnotes from the Supreme Court Reporter, (3) create a Webpage and link to the full-text of the opinion online, (4) download it from a website that uses the official version, or (5) seek permission from the editor of the casebook to use her edited version. It usually is not difficult to obtain free permission when the use of the copies made is for teaching purposes in a nonprofit educational institution.
If I want to make a course pack, do I need to obtain copyright permission first?
Yes, copyright permission must be obtained for every chapter, article, chart, graph and/or image reprinted in a course pack. The library will process all of the requests, provided that complete citations of each item being requested are submitted. Please visit the course pack section of this guide for detailed information.
If I want to place something on reserve, do I need to obtain copyright permission first?
Yes and no. There are two types of reserves available: traditional and electronic. Traditional means that it is in paper format and electronic means that it is accessible online. If you would like to place an item on traditional reserve for the first time, copyright permission is not required. For any subsequent requests for the same item, copyright permission is required. For electronic reserves, copyright permission is always required. Please visit the Course Reserve section of this guide for detailed information.
* If an instructor puts on reserve a journal reprint that she purchased, is it permissible to keep it on reserve for more than one semester without copyright permission? Does the first sale doctrine apply?
If the professor paid for the reprint or paid royalties, then the library is not further reproducing it by putting that one reprint on reserve. It is a purchased item just as if the library itself purchases a book and places it on reserve. Therefore, the more than one semester limitation from the ALA Model Policy on Library Reserves does not apply. Under the first sale doctrine, found in section 109(a) of the Copyright Act, the owner of a lawfully acquired copy of a work may dispose of that copy as he or she wishes. This would include putting it on reserve in a library.
* For electronic reserves, is it permissible for the library to link to an article in an online database?
Usually yes, but not always. It is the license agreement for the online database that controls whether linking from an e-reserves system is covered under the terms of the license agreement. The link should go to a dialog box where the user has to be authenticated to ensure that his or her access is covered under the license. If the license does not permit such linking, the library may want to renegotiate the license to ensure its ability to link to online sources for which it has paid for access.
For RVCC Faculty: As mentioned above, online database license agreements vary. Please check with the library about providing links in electronic reserves for articles in our online databases.
Does RVCC have a copyright policy?
Yes. The college does have a copyright policy.
* Some of the faculty members in a particular academic department want to post their published articles on the institution's external Website in pdf format. Will publishers readily give permission for this?
It depends. If the faculty author has transferred the entire copyright to the journal publisher, then naturally he must request permission to post the article in any format. If the faculty member retained the electronic rights to the article, then she can put the article on a Webpage without permission. Some copyright transfer agreements even state that the author may place the work on the Web six months or a year after it appears in the printed journal. So, there is no across-the-board answer; instead, it depends on what rights were transferred to the publisher and what the actual copyright assignment said.
*A librarian has been asked to present a paper at a conference. The association that sponsors the conference asked her to bring 25 copies of the paper to sell. What copyright symbol should be placed on the copies?
Although notice of copyright is no longer required, it is a good idea to include notice on such papers. As the author, the librarian owns the copyright, not the association. A notice alerts anyone who purchases the paper that the librarian holds the copyright in the work. The notice is more than "symbol." It consists of three elements: (1) the "C" in a circle, the word copyright or the abbreviation copr.; (2) the name of the copyright holder; and (3) the year of first publication.
How long does it take to obtain copyright permission?
Obtaining copyright permissions may take a couple of hours or several weeks. Some permissions come directly through the Copyright Clearance Center, others from publishers.
May I play a videotape in one of my classes?
A video may be played in class with the following restrictions: only students enrolled in the course may be present; students from other classes may not be present; public attendees may not be present; and no admission can be charged.
Videotapes rented or purchased from a retail video store usually do not include the right to use the tape in any way other than for personal viewing at home.
*If an instructor owns a copy of a commercially produced video, may he make an additional copy and place that copy in the library for course reserve materials?
Duplicating videos is pretty clearly copyright infringement except for preservation by the library under the narrow conditions detailed in sections 108(b)-(c). Imagine that the work was a book that the faculty member owned. Would it be infringement if the faculty member duplicated the entire book and placed it on reserve? Yes. It is no different for videos. Certainly, under the first sale doctrine, the faculty member may place his/her own copy of the video on course reserves but reproduction of the work as described is infringement.
* Two faculty members at the university teach film courses. They run evening showings of the films, followed by discussions, which are widely advertised to the public. Although this provides an opportunity for students in the classes to see the films, many people from the general public attend. No public performance rights are obtained because the faculty members claim that the performances are fair use. They use copies of the DVDs from the library's collection for the performances, and many are recently released films ("Moulin Rouge" for example). Should the university be concerned about liability for copyright infringement?
Absolutely! Faculty are allowed to show films in class because of the section 110(1) exemption to the Copyright Act. To qualify for this exception to the copyright holder's exclusive right of public performance, certain requirements must be met. For example, the performance must be in a classroom (broadly defined) and teachers and students be simultaneously present in the same place.
If members of the public are allowed to view the performance, then the performance loses the exemption. The House report that accompanied the Act (H. Rep. 94-1476) says that the word "pupils" means students enrolled in the class. Thus, to have the films open to the public or even to other students on campus who are not enrolled in the class converts the performance from an exempted classroom performance to a public one for which the institution must have a license. I am surprised that the university attorneys have not put a stop to this!
May I reproduce photographs and/or diagrams from a book for distribution to students in class?
Yes, if the material meets the tests of brevity, spontaneity and cumulative effect as outlined in the “Agreement on Guidelines for Classroom Copying in Not-For-Profit Educational Institutions with Respect to Books and Periodicals” section of the RVCC Copyright Policy.