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Definitions

 

Click on a term to jump to its definition, or scroll down to browse all the definitions.

copyleft
copyright
copyright infringement
Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998
fair use
intellectual property
license
patent
plagiarism
public domain
TEACH Act
trademark
work made for hire

copyleft

Copyleft is a relatively new concept that originated among software developers but now is being used in a variety of fields. To "copyleft" a work, the creator of a copyrighted work usually issues a license allowing others to use, copy, modify or distribute the work under certain conditions, without asking permission. In essence, by copylefting the work, the author gives other people or organizations more freedom to use the work than they would have under copyright law, without putting the work in the public domain and giving up all right to protect it.

Only the copyright holder has the right to declare a work copylefted. Once a work is copylefted, the decision can't be reversed.

Organizations that are dedicated to copyleft issues and/or provide copyleft licenses include the Free Software Foundation and the Open Source Initiative (for software) and Creative Commons (for text, audio, images, video and educational works).

copyright

Copyright is a form of protection that United States law (title 17, U.S. Code) gives to the creators of original intellectual works, such as books, music, artwork and films. Copyright law gives copyright owners the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, perform, display or license their work.

Creative work cannot be copyrighted unless it is in a tangible form (such as on paper or video). Works are automatically copyrighted when they are put in tangible form and do not need be registered to be copyrighted.

Copyright laws vary by country. The U.S. Copyright Office says, "There is no such thing as an 'international copyright' that will automatically protect an author's writings throughout the entire world." However, as a result of international agreements, most countries honor each other's citizens' copyrights.

copyright infringement

Copyright infringement occurs when a copyrighted work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed or made into a derivative work (a work that is based on but changed somewhat from the original) without the permission of the copyright owner.

Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) updated U.S. copyright law for the Internet era. One change the act made was to give educational institutions that qualify as Internet service providers (including DCCCD) protection from liability for copyright infringement by students or employees, as long as the institution follows certain rules. That means if you infringe on someone’s copyright while using district computers or related district resources, you will be held responsible - not the district.

DCCCD has designated district legal counsel as its agent to receive claims of copyright infringement and to remove or disable illegal content. (See "District/Instructional Web Pages" in regulation CR of the DCCCD Board Policy Manual for more information.)

For more details, see the U.S. Copyright Office’s summary of the DMCA.

fair use

The "fair use" doctrine, part of U.S. copyright law, allows you to use copyrighted works legally, without permission, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship or research.

To determine whether use of a copyrighted work is a "fair use," you must consider all four of the following factors:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes (Will you make a profit by using the work, or will you be using it in your classroom?)
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work (Is the work purely factual, or is it a creative work?)
  3. the amount and importance of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole (Will you use a few words or an entire article? A key portion or an insignificant one?)
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work (If you use the work - for example, by posting it on your Web site - would that make people less likely to buy it?)

intellectual property

Intellectual property is anything created by the human mind that has commercial value and can be protected under federal law. U.S. law defines four types of intellectual property:

  • copyright (such as a music composition)
  • patents (such as the design for a new machine)
  • trademarks (such as McDonald's golden arches)
  • trade secrets (such as the formula for Coca-Cola)

Intellectual property must be expressed in a tangible form (for example, on paper or video) to be protected.

license

A license is a contractual agreement in which a copyright owner (or the owner's authorized agent) gives another person or organization permission to exercise one or more of the exclusive rights they hold as the copyright owner. Licenses usually involve the payment of a fee or royalty but can also be free.

patent

A patent is an agreement in which the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office gives an inventor the right to exclude others from making, using or selling an invention for a limited period of time (usually 20 years). Patents may be issued for a new process or machine, a new design for a product or a new variety of plant, among other things.

plagiarism

Plagiarism is the unacknowledged use of someone else’s words or ideas.

The DCCCD Board Policy Manual defines plagiarism as "the appropriating, buying, receiving as a gift or obtaining by any means another's work and the unacknowledged submission or incorporation of it in one's own written work."

(Note: The Online Resources page for students features links to helpful Web sites with information about plagiarism and how to cite sources.)

public domain

Public domain refers to works that are not protected by copyright and are publicly available. They may be used by anyone, anywhere, anytime without permission, license or royalty payment. A work may enter the public domain because the term of copyright protection has expired, the work is not eligible to be copyrighted or the work was created by the federal government.

TEACH Act

The Technology, Education and Copyright Act of 2002 (TEACH Act) updates copyright law in the area of distance education and facilitates the use of copyrighted materials without obtaining permission, provided certain conditions are met. 

Refer to the TEACH Act Toolkit (North Carolina State University) for information and guidance on meeting the conditions of this act.

trademark

A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of these things, that a company uses to identify its products.

work made for hire

Usually, the person who creates a copyrighted work is considered its author. However, if an employee creates that work as a part of his or her employment, it is considered a "work made for hire," and the employer is considered to be the copyright owner.
 
DCCCD Board Policy defines "district-supported works" and outlines important, related guidelines and procedures in policy DBD (local). 

Also see U.S. Copyright Office Circular 9, Works Made for Hire Under the 1976 Copyright Act (PDF - 71.7 KB)

Want to suggest another term that should be defined on this page? Please send your recommendation to April Ellis, senior Web editor.