Copyright FAQ

Will the University support me if I exercise fair use?
How do I make sure I have copyright protection in my work?
What is Creative Commons, and how can I use it?
Is using this picture, quote, etc, a fair use?
Can you give me permission to use this?
When I ask for something through 7FAST, I don't always get a whole copy. Why?
What are moral rights?
What is a mask work?
What are the main exceptions in U.S. copyright law to support teaching?
I am a faculty member. Can I put my article or chapter on my personal website?
Can I put a copy of my book in Canvas for classes I teach?
Why do you treat all works published before 1923 as public domain?
Does this 1923 date roll? That is, will you be moving to 1924 next year?


Will the University support me if I exercise fair use?

At the University of Michigan, individual instructors are responsible for their own choices in course readings and other instructional content - including the decision to rely on fair use when using particular materials in a course context.

Why does the University of Michigan take this approach?

  • This policy supports instructors' intellectual freedom in the instructional context.
  • Instructors are best informed about how important elements of the fair use analysis (such as the amount of the material used, its centrality to the original work, and most importantly, the pedagogical purpose in using the material) apply to their specific uses of copyrighted material.

Some people find the idea of making a fair use determination intimidating or frightening - or they are concerned about the possibility of getting sued about the materials they use in their teaching. Rest assured that:

  • Fair use is not impossible to understand. Some informational campaigns about fair use intentionally sow uncertainty and doubt, but learning the basics of fair use is well within the capacity of most teens and adults.
  • Fair use is central to the functioning of this and other Universities. Instructors making informed and reasonable choices about fair use in their teaching will have the full support of the University in the unlikely event that any legal issues arise.

Learn more about fair use elsewhere on this website (including instructional uses; general uses), or by participating in one of our on-campus or online workshops. We are also happy to consult one-on-one.

How do I make sure I have copyright protection in my work?

Under current U.S. law, copyright protection automatically covers all new copyrightable works. Most works of scholarship are copyrightable and thus receive this automatic protection. (Note that individual elements of them might not be copyrightable — for instance, a table reporting data receives little or no copyright protection.) While you can register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office, you don't need to do that to gain copyright protection. However, registration confers certain benefits and is easy to do; the U.S. Copyright Office provides clear information about this process on its website.

What is Creative Commons, and how can I use it?

Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that created a set of simple, easy-to-understand copyright licenses. These are legally enforceable licenses that allow creators to mark a work with permission to make a variety of uses, with the aim of expanding the range of things available for others to share, quote, adapt, and build upon. Check out our Creative Commons Guide for more!

Is using this picture, quote, etc, a fair use?

Whether something is a fair use is a complicated question. You need to evaluate four factors set forth in the Copyright Act for each situation. Traditionally, courts favor educational, non-commercial uses of copyrighted works, but one needs to consider all four factors together. Take a look at our Fair Use Guide, which explains the four factors. Other helpful resources include Stanford’s Summaries of Fair Use Cases, the U.S. Copyright Office’s Fair Use Index, and Cornell’s Fair Use Checklist.

Can you give me permission to use this?

We can't give you permission to use a copyrighted work, even if the University of Michigan Regents hold the copyright. 

For copyrights held by the Regents, University of Michigan policy dictates that “the University units most closely associated with the creation of specific University held works may authorize uses of those works.” In an exception to this general rule, the Office of Technology Transfer controls uses of certain software as well as deliverables funded by sponsored activity agreements. Thus, to obtain permission, you will need to determine what unit is most closely associated with the creation of the work you want to reuse. Then, you will need to find a contact person within that unit. The work itself, the University website, and the University directory are likely to be the most helpful to you during this search.

For copyrights held by third parties, we recommend you consult our guide, Obtaining Copyright Permissions.

Before seeking permission, consider whether you need permission for the use you intend to make. U.S. law permits some uses of materials without permission from the copyright holder. Copyright law does not protect facts, so if the material you seek to reuse is exclusively factual, you do not need permission. For more information about this doctrine, you may wish to consult the section, “What is Not Protected by Copyright?” in Circular 1 from the U.S. Copyright Office. In addition, copyright terms expire. When that happens, the work enters the public domain and may be used freely. If you think the material you are interested in may be in the public domain, the chart Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States, from Cornell, may be helpful to you. You may also want to check if the work is already licensed under a Creative Commons license or another license that would permit your planned use. Finally, you may be able to use the material without permission under the fair use doctrine or another exception to copyright law. Our office has a fair use guide that may be helpful to you as you work through this analysis.

When I ask for something through 7FAST, I don't always get a whole copy. Why?

The University of Michigan Library complies with all applicable copyright law when providing copies for users. Section 108 of the U.S. Copyright Act governs library copying and interlibrary loan in the United States and provides qualified libraries and archives with special privileges to make certain copies. These library privileges come with important conditions and limitations. As a result, sometimes libraries can only provide a copy of a portion of the work. This sometimes comes as a surprise to people who assume libraries can provide copies of entire works in all cases. Keep in mind that you can make your own decision about whether your particular use would be permissible under fair use -- the law may permit you to make your own copy even if the Library cannot legally do so. In that case, you are welcome to come to the library and make a copy yourself.

What are moral rights? 

The legal theory of moral rights or “droit moral” comes from French legal tradition and is a creature of the Enlightenment. Moral rights recognize the personal reputation of an artist or creator. They include the right of attribution and the right of integrity. The right of attribution means that that the creator has the right to have her name associated with her work -- or disassociated if the work is damaged or modified in a way that leads the artist to feel that the work is no longer an embodiment of her intended expression. The right of integrity means that the work may not be changed, altered, distorted, or mutilated. In 1928, these concepts were included in Article 6bis of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Work, which governs international copyright.

Moral rights stand in contrast to the “economic rights” more broadly protected under American copyright law, such as the right of reproduction and the right of distribution. The U.S. Copyright Act recognizes moral rights in a very limited and specific manner in Section 106A, the Visual Artists Rights Act. This provision was passed in 1990 as part of the U.S. entry into the Berne Convention. It applies only to "works of visual art,” either a painting, drawing, print, or sculpture, or a photograph produced for exhibition purposes only, where the work exists in a single copy or in 200 or fewer copies signed and numbered by the artist. Many types of works are specifically excluded from this protection, including works made for hire. The provision allows artists to waive these rights under contract.

What is a mask work?

Mask works are defined in the Copyright Act as, “a series of related images, however fixed or encoded — (A) having or representing the predetermined three-dimensional pattern of metallic, insulating, or semiconductor material present or removed from the layers of a semiconductor chip product; and (B) in which series the relation of the images to one another is that each image has the pattern of the surface of one form of the semiconductor chip product.”

What are the main exceptions in U.S. copyright law to support teaching?

There are three main limitations on copyright that benefit educators: the classroom teaching exception, the TEACH Act, and fair use. These exceptions work together to provide educators a broad set of abilities to make use of copyrighted materials in their day-to-day teaching. The classroom teaching exception defines limitations that enable teachers to make use of copyrighted works in face-to-face teaching. The TEACH Act gives teachers and students at accredited educational institutions the right use works for distance learning without permission under certain circumstances. Fair use allows limited use of copyrighted material without permission from the copyright holder for purposes such as criticism, parody, news reporting, research and scholarship, and teaching. By understanding these exemptions, teachers are able to use copyrighted materials and to respect and fully utilize the protections provided to them by the law.

I am a faculty member. Can I put my article or chapter on my personal website? 

First, a plea: keep copies of your contracts the same way you keep your CV up to date. It makes life much simpler. If you have your contract, what does it contract say? The assumption is that you own your copyright in any scholarly work you create as a faculty based on SPG 601.28. Note that if you have a co-author, you share copyright (see “Who is the owner of a copyrighted work?”). Also keep in mind that if your work is related to a grant or contract, those terms may control copyright ownership. That said, if you sign contracts that transfer or assign all rights to the publisher, you have the same rights as anyone else to use or copy the work: the right to purchase or license and fair use. Its pretty common for faculty to post their work on their sites, but technically it may not be legally acceptable. 

What to do? 

  • Understand your contracts and ask for what you want before you sign. 
  • Use the Author Addendum - this simple form reserves key rights to you as the author. 
  • Publish in open access journals.

If you’ve already signed a contract, ask these questions: 

  1. Do you have your contract?
  2. What does it say? 
  3. Can you link to the item (whether from your public site or from Canvas)?

Contact us at copyright@umich.edu if you need additional help.

Can I put a copy of my book in Canvas for classes I teach?

Perhaps. Do not assume you can scan a chapter or the entire book just because you wrote it, even if is not for sale anymore. The item is still subject to copyright, and that copyright is probably not yours (or not yours alone). Start by looking at your publishing contract. Did you reserve the right to use the work in your teaching (perhaps by using the Author Addendum)? Does the contract allow you to revert rights previously granted if the book is out of print or out of commerce? Does the contract provide other avenues for you to use the work in this way?

If not, you are likely still entitled to make fair use of your work, so long as you did not waive your fair use rights in the publishing contract. In that case, the considerations are the same as the general considerations for using a work on Canvas.

To eliminate this kind of problem publish in open access publications. (Learn more about open educational resources at Open.Michigan.) 

Why do you treat all works published before 1923 as public domain?

We do so because there is no possible term of copyright protection that could result in a work published before 1923 still being protected by copyright in the United States. Prior to the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, works that were published with notice and properly renewed were protected for seventy-five years after publication. The extension granted another twenty years of copyright protection, but it applied only to works that were not in the public domain as of 1998. Therefore, if a work was published in the United States before 1923, it was ineligible for the extension and remains in the public domain today.

Does this 1923 date roll? That is, will you be moving to 1924 next year?

Not yet. The Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 froze the date at 1923 for twenty years. The date will begin to "roll" again in 2019. Right now, works that were published with notice in 1923 and properly renewed remain protected by copyright. On January 1, 2019, those works will enter the public domain.

Things are different for unpublished works, works published without proper notice, and works that were not renewed. To determine whether a particular work is in the public domain, we recommend Cornell's chart, Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States, and Berkeley's handbook, Is it in the Public Domain?.


Unless otherwise noted, all content on the Copyright Information section of this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License. 

This web site presents information about copyright law. The University Library makes every effort to assure the accuracy of this information but does not offer it as counsel or legal advice. Consult an attorney for advice concerning your specific situation.

We wish to acknowledge the University of Minnesota Libraries for this text provided under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.

Page maintained by Melissa Smith Levine
Last modified: 08/24/2016