Skip to main content

Copyright and Fair Use for Faculty

Background of copyright and fair use for educators, with an emphasis on FAQs for using library and other resources in compliance with copyright law. This site is not legal advice, and the authors are not legal counsel to the university.

COVID-19 Closing FAQs

Click here for information about the Libraries' operation during COVID-19.


The purpose of this guide is to provide faculty at Adelphi University with an understanding of copyright law and Fair Use.  Faculty need to understand the basics of copyright law and act in good faith since failure to comply can lead to substantial legal penalties for both the faculty member and the university.

The Association of Research Libraries' "Know Your Copy Rights" gives a synopsis of what is and is not generally allowable under copyright law.

Copyright takes place automatically from the moment a work is first “fixed in a tangible medium”  and copyright notice, registration, or publication are not essential to acquire copyright. While  a copyright notice, date, the “circled c” © symbol or any other information is not needed to obtain copyright protection, if you want to make your work publicly accessible it's a good practice to include a copyright notice, along with contact information, so that anyone interested in reusing your copyrighted work will be able to contact you. The modern rule of copyright (for works created in or after 1978) is the life of the author plus 70 years.

A Creative Commons license provides "a simple, standardized way to give the public permission to share and use your creative work — on conditions of your choice. CC licenses let you easily change your copyright terms from the default of “all rights reserved” to “some rights reserved.”

Contracts and licenses with library resource vendors usually place some limitations on their use. Electronic resources (ejournals, ebooks, databases) obtained from the Library's website come with licenses that are negotiated to get the rights that are needed for faculty to use the materials for their courses. However, if you have a specific concern, contact your Library liaison for clarification.


Adelphi Copyright Policy

The Adelphi University Copyright Policy is intended to assist members of the Adelphi community in being copyright compliant with materials they use for classrooms and research.

Copyright protections attach automatically to a work the moment it is created. By and large, the creator or authors of a work own the copyright. However, if an employee produces a work within the scope of the employment then the employer usually owns the copyright. This is considered as a work made for hire.  

According to Adelphi University Copyright Policy faculty, teaching and graduate assistants retain copyright in their creative and scholarly works.  Students will hold the copyright to works created as part of their program or coursework. However the University will nevertheless retain the right to use the student work internally for educational and administrative purposes.

You may either transfer, give all of your copyright or only some parts of the work. This commonly happens as a part of publishing agreements. In most cases, the publisher holds the copyright to a work, and not the author. A valid copyright transfer needs a signed written agreement. 

You retain the copyright until you transfer or assign it to someone else. Section 106 of the Copyright Act gives the owners of copyright the following exclusive rights to do and authorize others to:

  • Right to reproduce the work
  • Right to prepare derivative works, including translations
  • Right to distribute the work to others via a license, sale or other means
  • Right to display or perform the work.

Some questions that you might want to consider before signing a publisher agreement include:

  • Do you want to send copies of the article to colleagues?
  • Do you want to post a copy on your course Web site?
  • Do you want to include a copy with your online CV?
  • Do you want to deposit a copy in a digital repository?
  • Do you want to publish a translation of the article in another language?
  • Do you want to distribute copies for a conference presentation?
  • Do you want to assign it as a reading to students?

Copyright Law Defined

Copyright law, as defined in Title 17 of the United States Code, protects "original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression" for a limited period. Copyright protection includes, for instance, the legal right to publish and sell literary, artistic, or musical work, and copyright protects authors, publishers and producers, and the public.  Copyright applies both to traditional media (books, records, etc.) and to digital media (electronic journals, web sites, etc.). Copyright protects the following eight categories of works:

  1. literary works
  2. musical works
  3. dramatic works
  4. pantomimes and choreographic works
  5. pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  6. motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  7. sound recordings
  8. architectural works

Ownership of a copyrighted work includes the right to control the use of that work. Use of such work by others during the term of the copyright requires either permission from the author or reliance on the doctrine of Fair Use. Failure to do one or the other will expose the user to a claim of copyright infringement for which the law provides remedies including payment of money damages to the copyright owner.

Works that cannot be copyrighted include, but are not limited to:

  • Ideas, concepts, principles, or discoveries
  • Titles, names, slogans, short phrases
  • Works in the public domain (out of copyright)
  • Discoveries
  • Procedures

However, it may be possible to copyright the way these things are expressed.

Again, protection is now applied automatically for nearly all original works whether the copyright is registered or not. 


Framework for Analyzing Copyright Problems


According to Kevin Smith, M.L.S., J.D., Lisa A. Macklin, J.D.,M.L.S. and Anne Gilliland, JD, MLS there are five basic questions that need to be answered to determine which parts of copyright law apply to a specific question.  These questions are outlined in their  Framework Questions.

Obtaining Permission

Permission from copyright holders is often needed when creating course materials, research papers, and web sites. You need to obtain permission when you use a work in a way that infringes on the exclusive rights granted to a copyright holder (i.e. outside the boundaries of Fair Use).

Steps that need to be followed to obtain permission to use copyrighted material:

  1. Determine if permission is needed for the work you want to use.
  2. Identify the copyright holder or agent. 
  3. Send written request for permission to use the work, giving yourself ample lead time, as the process for obtaining permissions can take months. Decide if you are willing to pay a licensing fee/royalty.
  4. If the copyright holder can't be located or is unresponsive (or if you are unwilling to pay a license fee), be prepared to use a limited amount that qualifies for Fair Use, or use alternative material.

For more information, visit the Copyright Clearance Center's Obtaining Permission page.  The Authors Registry might also be able to provide contact information with copyright holders.