Copyright violations are often overlooked by students during their education. Consequently, students are sometimes engaging in acts where ethical, legal and economical issues are not fully considered. Copyright violations are often committed unwittingly, but the penalties can, nevertheless, be severe. Copyright is a form of protection provided by U.S. laws to the authors of “original works of authorship”, including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic and certain other intellectual works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works. The Copyright Act generally gives copyright owners the exclusive right to make and to authorize others to make copies of, or to distribute, their work. It is illegal for anyone to violate any of the rights provided to the copyright owner.

As a rule, it is not acceptable to make copies of any works of an author in order to save the purchase price of the original work. Purchase of textbooks and other supplemental learning material is a cost of education and should be factored into your budget. You should also be aware that material available over the Internet and through other electronic media does not remove these materials from copyright protection. Just because materials are easy to duplicate does not make it right to do so, unless permission to do so has been expressly given.

In general, you are allowed to make a single copy of a book chapter, periodical or newspaper article, short
story, poem, essay, chart, graph, diagram, drawing, cartoon, or picture.

You are also allowed to make one copy for each student in a class, provided the document meets the tests of brevity and spontaneity, cumulative effect, and contains notice of copyright. Brevity Items which meet the “brevity” test are: a poem of no more than two pages and/or less than 250 words; a prose selection of less than 2,500 words; a selection of not more than 1,000 words or 10% of the piece from a prose work; a single chart, graph, diagram, drawing, cartoon, or picture per book or periodical; or “special” works in which copy and illustration interact to form the message.

A selection meets the test of spontaneity if the selection is required very soon and there is not time to receive a response to a request. A selection meets the test of cumulative effect if the copy is made for only one course, not more than one short selection is copied from the same author (nor more than three from the same collective work during a single class term), and there are no more than nine instances of such multiple copying for one course during a class term.

You cannot use copies to create or replace anthologies, compilations, or collective works. You cannot copy from works designed to be “consumable” (i.e., workbooks, exercises, etc). You should never use copying to substitute for the purchase of books, and you may not recopy the same material for more than one term. Students cannot be charged for copies beyond the actual cost of photocopying.

The taping of television and radio selections for non-profit instructional use is sometimes possible, but you should check with the library to find out which programming is available for education purposes. If you wish to obtain permission to copy something, determine who owns the copyright (this information is usually on front or back of the title page) and request permission to duplicate by including the following information:

  1. Title, author/editor, and edition of material
  2. Exact material to be used, giving page numbers, chapter, and a photocopy of the material
  3. Number of copies to be made
  4. Use to be made of copied material
  5. Form of distribution (classroom, newsletter, etc.)
  6. Whether or not material is to be sold
  7. Type of reprint (ditto, photocopy, offset, typeset)

Send the request, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the permissions department of the publisher. You can find the address in the document itself, Books in Print, or The Literary Marketplace. Some material may be in the public domain and have no copyright restrictions. The Register of Copyrights at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20559 can tell you if a particular work is in the public domain. Computer software is also protected by copyright law. Before you copy or distribute software that is not explicitly in the public domain, you should check with the software company.