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Copyright: FAQ

A collection of resources on the subject of copyright.

Information on Copyright

For more information on issues related to copyright, see any of the following articles:

Copyright and Plagiarism

Open Access

Instruments, Medical Records, and Copyright



If there is no copyright notice or symbol, does that mean there is no copyright?
The absence of a copyright notice or symbol does not mean that there is no copyright. Copyright protection exists automatically from the moment of creation in a tangible fixed form. A notice is not required to protect copyright.

When does copyright protection begin and what is required?
Copyright protection begins when any work is actually created in a tangible fixed form. You can indicate copyright by using the Copyright symbol © , along with your name. For example, Copyright © 2011 John Smith.  You do not need to register your work in order for it to be protected by copyright.

When does copyright protection end or expire?
A work is protected until 70 years after the death of its creator.  Works produced by a company/employer are protected for 95 years from the date of creation.  An exception to this is a work created prior to 1923, which is not protected by copyright.

A work is considered in the public domain if it is not protected by copyright.  Consult the chart, Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States, for further information.

How can I copyright my own work?
You do not have to register your work to receive and retain copyright protection.  If you plan to publish, post, or otherwise distribute your work, it may be a good idea to register because it allows you a number of legal benefits. You may register a work at any time while it is still in copyright.  Registering is not difficult, and the fee is $35.00 if done electronically.  For instructions and forms, visit the United States Copyright Office website. If you have any questions regarding copyright registration, the US Copyright Office has a toll-free help line at 1-877-476-0778.

What does it mean if something is in the public domain?
Public domain is not the same thing as publicly available.  The public domain comprises all those works that are either no longer protected by copyright or never were.  There are four categories of public domain materials:

  1. Generic information, such as facts, numbers and ideas;
  2. Works whose copyrights have lapsed due to the passage of time or the failure of the copyright holder to renew a registration;
  3. Words created prior to March 1989 that failed to include a proper notice of copyright;
  4. Works created by the U.S. federal government.

What about things I find on the Internet?
Copyright applies the same way to print and digital works.

Material found on the web is not necessarily in the public domain. It may be freely copied only if it was: created by the federal government, if the copyright has expired, or the copyright has been abandoned by the holder.

Graphic images can be provided by "free" graphic sites, but these images are not in the public domain. You can use them by complying with the owner's terms and conditions.

When can I use a work without the author's permission?  What is Fair Use?
Fair use recognizes that certain types of use of other people's copyright protected works to no require the copyright holder's authorization.  It is designed to allow the use of copyright protected work for research, education, commentary and news reporting.

How can I determine if something is covered by Fair Use?
There are four factors to consider for Fair Use:

  1. The purpose and character of the use (nonprofit educational purposes or commercial purposes);
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used; and
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market.

For additional guidance, use the Fair Use Checklist developed by the Columbia University Libraries Copyright Advisory Office.

For additional information on measuring Fair Use, go to the Stanford Copyright and Fair Use web site.

How can I ask for copyright permission to use someone else's work?
You must first determine who owns the copyright ownership. Frequently, it is the journal or book publisher that owns the copyright, but occasionally it is the author. You need to contact the owner of the copyright to request permission. You can often do this from a publisher's web site or by contacting the publisher via email.

The following information should be provided:

  • Your name
  • Your email address
  • Identify the material
  • Explain how you will be using the material
  • Identify the group to which the material will be distributed
  • Indicate how many copies you wish to distribute.

If there is not a specified web site or form to use when requesting permissions, you may want to use these forms as guidelines:

Requesting permission to use in a publication - Sample Letter / The University of Michigan

Requesting permission to distribute copies - Sample Letter / The University of Michigan

Once you obtain permission, keep documentation of the permission on file. In addition, place a notice at the bottom of the page or project crediting the original source, noting that you received permission on a particular date, and include the URL of the original source.

It is often impossible to identify or locate the copyright holder, particularly for older works. These items are called "orphan works." Keep documentation of your search for the copyright holder.

Links to permissions web pages of frequently used journals:

Are there any other copyright permission options?
The Copyright Clearance Center is a third party service which provides permission for a wide variety of journal and book publishers and charges a feel for this service. 

You can also contact one of the librarians in the Sladen Library (313-916-2550 or for assistance in obtaining copyright permission.