Mohave Community College Libraries

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a form of legal protection that gives the author (creator) of an original work a degree of control over the reproduction and distribution of their work. Copyright protection is automatic under current U.S. Law and begins the instant an "original work of authorship is fixed in a tangible medium of expression."

This protection includes both published and unpublished works. Works do not have to be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office to have copyright protection.

Under the Copyright Act, the owners of copyright have the following exclusive rights:

  • Reproduce the work in full or part
  • Create derivatives of their work based on the original
  • Distribute copies of their work
  • Perform a work publicly 
  • Publicly display their work

These "exclusive rights" are subject to some limitations and exemptions, the doctrine of Fair Use being the best example (see page on Fair Use Guidelines).



Can be Copyrighted  Can not be Copyrighted
Literary works Works not in a "fixed" tangible form
Musical works and lyrics

Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes,

principles, or discoveries

Dramatic works Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans
Choreographic works Familiar symbols or designs
Motion picture and other audio/visual works Ingredients of contents (recipes)
Sound recordings.

Spontaneous works not in a tangible form

(speeches, musical works, or choreographs)


How long does Copyright protection of a work last?

Copyright protection does not last forever, but when the  protection expires depends on many factors:

  •  For works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. 
  • For an anonymous work, a pseudonymous work, or a work made for hire, the copyright endures for a term of 95 years from the year of its first publication or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first.
  • For works first published prior to 1978, the term will vary depending on several factors.

Sooner or later, a copyrighted work will pass into the Public Domain (until that time, you need permission to use any work under copyright)

For more information on how to determine if a work is in the Public Domain or under Copyright, please see the " Creative Commons & Public Domain" page.

When should I get permission to use a copyrighted work?

The first step in every permission situation is to determine whether you need to ask for permission. In other words, do you need an agreement or can you use the work without permission? Determining whether to ask for permission depends on two questions:

  • Is the material protected under law?
  • Would your use of the material violate the law?

Unfortunately, it is not always possible to answer these questions with a definitive “yes” or “no.” Sometimes, you may have to analyze the risk involved in operating without permission.

If a creative work is protected under copyright law, an unauthorized use may still be legal. This is because there are exceptions to each of the laws protecting creative work — situations in which authorization is not required. For example, under copyright law, a principle known as “fair use” permits you to copy small portions of a work for certain purposes such as scholarship or commentary. See tab labeled Fair Use for additional information. 

Fair use means that if I’m using it for educational purposes, I can do whatever I want with a copyrighted work, right?

The "fair use" limitation found at 17 USC § 107 is not defined in the statute and does not provide clearly defined criteria for determining what is or is not a fair use. Rather it identifies four factors that should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis in order to determine if a specific use is "fair". These factors, which should be considered together when determining fair use, are:

1. Purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

2. Nature of the copyrighted work;

3. Amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

4. Effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Just because your use is for non-profit educational purposes does not automatically give you permission to copy and distribute other people's work. While many educational uses may be fair, you will probably need to evaluate your use each time you are reproducing copyrighted material — to show in your class, to hand out copies, to include in your writing. See the page "Fair Use" for further information.

To what extent am I personally liable as a faculty member, student, or employee of Mohave Community College for violating copyright law?

  • Both the College and the individual may be liable in a civil suit for willful infringement of U.S. Copyright Law. Section 504 (c) (2) of the law states that willful infringement may result in damages of up to $150,000.
  • Section 504 (c)(2) further states that damages may be remitted (i.e., not enforced) under the following conditions:
  • The infringer must prove in court that he or she reasonably thought the use in question fell under fair use; however, this would not necessarily prevent the copyright holder from filing a lawsuit or subsequent attorney and court fees.

Can I scan course readings and put them up on my personal website for students to read?

No, not without permission of the copyright owner.  Materials posted on the web could be accessed by people all over the world. In effect you would be distributing the information freely and broadly, thus affecting the market for that work (fair use factor #4).

If a work is copyrighted and I want to use it in my class, what do I have to do?

You can put it on reserve in the library without getting permission from the copyright owner. If you want to distribute multiple copies directly to students, you need to get permission.

Note: If a work you want to use is out of print, it may still be under copyright protection. You should proceed with the assumption that an out of print work still enjoys protection.

What if I use Schoology or another Learning Management System (LMS) that uses passwords to limit access to students in a particular class? Would that be fair use of copyrighted materials?

It’s not clear whether this is fair use or not. Yes limiting access to students in a particular class does make a better case for fair use. However, even in limiting access, you still have to consider the four fair use factors and the guidelines for brevity and spontaneity.

For example, you could post an article in ANGEL for one semester only and not re-use it unless you get permission from the copyright owner.

What about copying a worksheet or a test for students?

If you create the test or worksheet and retain the copyright, yes, you can copy it. However, published tests and worksheets may also be under copyright, and you will need to get permission of the copyright owner to copy and distribute them.

Can I show films in the classroom?

Yes. According to the Section 110 (1) of the U.S. Copyright Act, performance of or showing films in the classroom as part of “face-to-face” teaching at non-profit educational institutions (such as MCC) is covered under the fair use exception. Viewing must be limited to only those enrolled in the course, and the film screened must be directly related to the instructional program.

  Showing films in equivalent fashion as part of distance education or hybrid courses also qualifies as fair use under the TEACH Act, but there are restrictions. Only reasonable and limited portions of dramatic works, such as movies, TV programs, plays, etc. can be used; guidelines are up to 10 percent of the total or three minutes, whichever is less. In contrast, entire non-dramatic works can be shown. 

Can I display copyrighted pictures and other visual material in an online setting?

Yes, generally. You must make reasonable measures to ensure against wide distribution of these copyrighted materials. This usually includes:

  • Holding the course in a password-protected format
  • Only displaying material that is directly related to course content and under your supervision as an instructor during class session/module.
  • Posting a copyright notice in your course so that students are informed regarding the reproduction and distribution of copyrighted materials
  • Taking steps so that students may not reproduce the work (saving files, etc.)

Do I have to get permission to link to another site from my web page?

In general, no, you do not need permission to create a link to another web site. However, even though it is not required, it is considered polite to ask permission to create a link to someone else's information on the web, especially if you think linking will drive a lot of traffic to that site.

What kinds of information am I allowed to post on my website?

Any information that has been created by you as an author is acceptable to put on a webpage or a website. This includes syllabi, class notes, biographical information, curriculum vitae, etc. Articles or papers that you have written may be posted without permission only if you are the copyright holder for the work. If it has been published elsewhere, you may no longer own the copyright to the work and may have to seek permission to post it to your site.

If you copy a work or a significant portion of another work (including images) for which you do not own copyright and post it to a website without permission, you may be in violation of copyright law.

Putting something up on a website is not the same as publishing something, is it? So do I have to worry about copyright?

Yes, you do. Posting something to the web, even if you don’t call it publishing, still means it’s protected by copyright law. According to United States Copyright Law, "Copyright protects original works of authorship that are fixed in a tangible form of expression. The fixation need not be directly perceptible so long as it may be communicated with the aid of a machine or device."

So once an image, article, book, or other work is created, it is protected under copyright whether or not it was published in a traditional manner or in physical form. Thus, if you post your own work or that of others to a website, you still have to keep copyright in mind.

Can I print, download, or e-mail information from a website or library database without violating copyright?

Yes, in general, it’s OK to print, download, or e-mail a single copy of a work from a database or website for personal, non-profit, research use.

Remember, though, that information on websites or found in databases is almost always protected under copyright law. Take care not to infringe the copyright by e-mailing, printing, downloading, or otherwise sharing multiple copies of the work. It is a violation of copyright and licensing agreements to copy an entire database or even significant portions of a database even for personal use.

What else do I need to know about printing, downloading, or e-mailing information or articles from databases?

 Mohave Community College provides access to many databases, which contain articles, books, audio and video resources, and other information for scholarly research. You can print, download, and e-mail this information because the College has paid for a license for you to do so. In agreeing to this license, the College ensures that database users are students, staff, faculty or public patrons only. The College also agrees that the information available is used in accordance with any restrictions listed in the license (for example, printing, downloading, or e-mailing one copy of an article for personal use).

Thus, because of this license agreement, you can use the information you find in the database for personal, non-profit, research purposes.