5 Things You May Not Know About U.S. Copyright Law

This post discusses essential points that every library, academic institution and business needs to know about U.S. copyright law. From rights granted to fair use to what’s in the public domain, all organizations need to understand basic U.S. copyright law principles. Libraries, institutions and businesses aiming to keep their exposure to copyright infringement to a minimum should start with these important points and use them to build their knowledge of U.S. copyright law and how the law applies to their work environment.

Do you know these 5 important U.S. copyright law facts?

U.S. Copyright Law Essentials

U.S. Copyright Law has so many “nooks and crannies” that it is difficult for those who create, publish, share and use copyright-protected material to understand just what’s legal and what is not. Below are five U.S. copyright law concepts that are often misunderstood. Understanding these basic U.S. copyright law principles could be your stepping stone to gaining more knowledge on how U.S. copyright law can help your organization and how you can comply with U.S. copyright law.

Registration of a copyright-protected work is not mandatory under U.S. Copyright Law True. A blog post, photograph, sketch or any other type of content is automatically protected by U.S. copyright law upon creation of the work. Once that content is in a fixed form such as on your hard drive, on an SD card, USB drive or on paper (or even tree bark!), it is automatically protected by copyright. Even a photo taken with your smart phone is protected by U.S. copyright law!
If you see content on the Internet and there’s no copyright information on it, you can freely use it. Quite the opposite. Digital content and online content is protected by copyright in the same manner as print or analogue content. Blog posts and photographs on websites are, for example protected by copyright. Use of the copyright symbol © is not mandatory so ask before you use online content. Even images you locate on Google search engine may be protected by copyright! See below for more information on images found through Google and other search engines.
If you cannot locate a copyright owner and you try, try and try, then you can legally use that content under U.S. copyright law. False. The U.S. Copyright Act does not currently have any exemption for those who try to get permission and are unsuccessful. Examine the fair use conditions and the specific exceptions in the U.S. Copyright Act to see if your use may fall under them. Otherwise, you cannot legally use the content although some may consider this a risk management issue. Works whose copyright owner cannot be identified or located are called Orphan Works. Some countries outside the U.S. such as Canada and the U.K. have special provisions in their copyright acts for the use of orphan works under specific conditions.
Educational institutions and libraries can use all content for free without obtaining copyright permissions. Nope. Schools at all levels and all kinds of libraries may be able to apply fair use to their uses in specific situations. In addition, nonprofit schools and libraries have specific provisions in the U.S. Copyright Act that apply to them. The library provisions apply to such things as preservation and interlibrary loan. However, there is no overall provision to allow all schools and educational institutions to use all content in all circumstances. (Note that fair use can be applied by all to their own specific situations and is not just for libraries and schools and nonprofit uses of copyright-protected content.)
Images found through Google Images are in the public domain and may be used without obtaining permission. Wrong. Google is a search engine to assist you in finding great images. However, you should assume that all online content is protected by copyright unless you know otherwise – for instance, if there is a copyright statement that explicitly says the image may be used without permission, then go for it! See: Copyright Law + Using Images and Photos from Google.

Learn more about U.S. Copyright Law.

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