Determining Whether You Need Permission to Use a Work
Is the work protected by copyright?
- Any work that is creative, original, and fixed in a tangible medium is protected by copyright.
- Copyright begins "the moment a work is fixed in a tangible medium of expression." ("Copyright Decision Tree")
- Some works are considered to fall in Public Domain, and are not protected by copyright. Consult this guide by Cornell University Library for help determining whether a work falls into public domain.
Is there a license that covers the intended use of the work?
- Some Creative Commons (CC) Licenses provide terms under which a work may be used. You may be able to find the terms of the license or find a comparable work with agreeable terms by searching the Creative Commons.
- If using electronic resources from the library, there may be a license governing how that resource can be accessed and used - even how it can be linked. Contact Marie or Chilly for help determining How copyrighted material through the library can be used.
Is there an exemption in copyright law that covers the intended use?
Is the intended use fair use?
- Title 17, Section 107 lays out conditions by which a copyrighted work may be used without infringement, "such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research." There are four factors of fair use to be considered.
- The purpose and character of the use - A fair use case is strengthened if the use is for nonprofit educational purposes, but not always. If copyrighted material is used in a way that changes its original meaning, it is said to be transformative, which favors coverage under fair use.
- A work may be considered sufficiently transformative if it helps establish a new point, helps the audience understand the author’s point and uses no more of the copyrighted material than necessary to make the user’s point.
- The nature of the copyrighted work - unpublished works are often not covered by fair use.
- The amount or portion of the total work that was copied - the greater the portion of the work used, the greater the impact on its commercial value, thereby bringing the next factor into play
- The effect of the use on the commercial value of the copyrighted work
- For more information, try the Fair Use Evaluator tool from the Copyright Advisory Network.
If a case for fair use cannot be made, you can contact the rights-holder for permission. Since copyright may be legally transferred, the original creators of the work may not be the copyright holder. Tools like WATCH (Writers, Artists, and Their Copyright Holders) can help.