Basics

Copyright is a legal form of protection that gives you, the creator, the exclusive legal right to reproduce, publish, sell, or distribute the matter and form of your materials. All works of authorship, be it art, literature, motion pictures, sound records, software, architecture, or lectures fall under the Copyright Act at the moment of creation, whether published or unpublished.

Throughout this page, the term author and content creator are used inter-changeably and can be considered synonymous.

Copyright Does Not Protect

Examples of things that are not protected by copyright include, but are not limited to: ideas, facts, words, names, numbers, symbols, signs, rules of grammar and punctuation,  scientific principles, mathematical formulae, laws of nature, research methodologies, statistical techniques, educational processes, laws, judicial opinions, legislative reports, and official United States government works.

Additional Reading


Fair Use

Fair use, a provision in copyright law, enables individuals to copy and use copyrighted works for limited and transformative purposes, without permission from the copyright holder.

“[T]he fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. ” 17 USC §107

No concrete criteria exist for determining fair use. The law is open to interpretation and thus legal challenges, much like the concept of “free speech” is. However, there are general guidelines to consider. For more information about those guidelines and how to assess fair use for instructional purposes, please click on the button below.

Fair Use


TEACH Act

The Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization (TEACH) Act went into effect in 2002. The Act clarifies and expands the ways in which copyrighted material can be used for distance education.

Requirements for Protection

To be eligible for copyright protection under the TEACH Act, the following criteria need to be met.

The Institution Must:

  • Be an accredited, non-profit educational institution or government body.
  • Establish a copyright policy, actively publicize and enforce it, and provide notice to students when class materials may be subject to copyright protection.
  • Use technological measures that prevent the use of materials by those not enrolled in the class and beyond the duration of the class.
  • Ensure the use of the material is limited to a specific class (consisting of enrolled students) and duration.

The Instructor Must:

  • Use material that is directly related to the course content and that is part of mediated instructional activities.
  • Legally obtain the materials, which cannot include textbooks or other materials traditionally purchased by the student.

Permissions under the TEACH Act

  • Allows for the display or performance of most mediums of copyrighted materials
  • Permits the digitization of analog materials for a limited period of time
  • Loosens copyright restrictions related to the storage, copying, and digitization of protected materials
  • Expands the guidelines regarding the transmission of materials (which were previously limited to face-to-face instruction), essentially allowing for distance education students from any location to use the material

Using the TEACH Act at UHWO

If you wish to share a film with your distance education class, visit the UHWO IT Policies page and submit a TEACH Act request to the IT service desk. If approved, the film will be made available to you during the time you specified on the checklist.


Using Copyrighted Material (Not Fair Use)

If you want to use copyrighted materials for situations that do not fall under fair use guidelines, the Library recommends that you ask for permission. You will need to:

  1. Identify the copyright holder – For most printed works, the publisher is the copyright holder. Look for a copyright notice, usually indicated with the © symbol, to quickly determine if the information is available. If it isn’t available, you may have to do some research to find the copyright holder. The Copyright Clearance Center may be a useful tool in locating the current copyright holder.
  2. Ask for permission – You should obtain a written agreement that is signed by the copyright holder, which grants you permission to use the copyrighted material. When reaching out for permission, be sure to cover all your bases (who, what, when, where, why, how) to best justify your use of the material.
  3. Keep detailed records – Track who you’ve contacted and when. Your records will prevent you from duplicating efforts and can support your case if your work is ever challenged.

Public Domain

Works in the public domain are not protected by copyright and other intellectual property laws. If a work is in the public domain, it is not owned by any one author or entity – anyone in the general public can use or copy the work, without worrying about obtaining permission to do so. There are 4 commons ways that a work might enter into the public domain, outlined below:

  1. Copyright law does not protect that type of work.
  2. The copyright has expired.
  3. The copyright owner did not properly renew the copyright.
  4. The copyright owner relinquishes copyright and places it in the public domain.

Public Domain + Year of Publication

Copyright is tricky, as the laws governing copyright have changed numerous times over the years. When considering copyright status by year published, there are some general rules-of-thumb to guide you.

  • Prior to 1923
    • A work published in the United States prior to 1923 is in the public domain.
  • Between 1923 and March 1, 1989
    • If it was published in the United States between 1923 and March 1, 1989, several factors must be considered.
      • Was it published with a notice? If so, it may still be protected by copyright. If not, it is in the public domain.
        • If originally published with a notice, was copyright properly renewed? If so, it may still be protected by copyright. If not, it is in the public domain.
  • After March 1, 1989
    • All works, published or unpublished, are protected by copyright for 70 years following the death of the content creator.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons is a global, non-profit organization that offers free legal and technical tools to assist content creators in granting the general public permission to use their creative works in a specified manner. These licenses are not intended for content creators who are adopting an “all rights reserved” approach to the creative work; instead, they are intended for content creators who want to make give the public certain usage rights while retaining copyright ownership. By using Creative Commons licenses, content creators contribute to a more open environment.

To learn more about the Creative Commons license types, process, and more, please click on the button below.

Creative Commons


As a content creator, once your work is fixed to a tangible medium of expression, you automatically become the copyright holder…unless you signed a contract that vests copyright ownership to a different entity (human or company). As a copyright holder, you are given a bundle of 5 rights to:

  1. reproduce the material
  2. create derivative works based upon the material
  3. distribute copies of the material
  4. perform the material publicly
  5. display the material publicly

Generally, when publishing with scholarly journals, authors assign their copyright to publishers so the publisher becomes the copyright owner.

Registering Copyright

You do not need to register with the United States Copyright office to hold copyright. There are, however, a few benefits to doing so:

  • your ownership becomes public record
  • should someone violate your copyright, you have a stronger case for enforcement

To register copyright, go to the Registration Portal on the United States Copyright Office’s website. There is a filing fee and considerable processing period.


Related Library Ebooks

Access to these selected materials are restricted to UH-affiliated faculty, staff, and students only. To view other related resources, please search for them via our databases.