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Questions and Answers

 

1. I am working on a Web site to promote my department. I found a graphic I like on another Web site. Can I copy the graphic and use it on my department’s Web site?
2. If I take a copyrighted photo or image and change 10 percent of it, does that mean I can use it without infringing on the copyright?
3. How do I get permission to use something that is copyrighted?
4. If a photo or an article is on the Internet, isn’t it in the public domain?
5. How do I know if something is copyrighted?
6. We’re a nonprofit educational institution. Doesn’t that mean we’re exempt from copyright law?
7. Do I have to get permission to link to another Web site from my Web site?
8. It’s OK to use copyrighted articles in my department newsletter as long as I credit the source, right?
9. What are the district’s policies regarding copyright?
10. I work in Student Life and want to plan a movie night for students. Can I just rent a copy of the movie I want to show at my local video store?

1. I am working on a Web site to promote my department. I found a graphic I like on another Web site. Can I copy the graphic and use it on my department’s Web site?

In most cases, the answer is no, unless you obtain permission from the person or organization that holds the copyright for the graphic. Some people think that if something is on the Internet, that means anyone else can use it, but images and text found on the Web are protected by copyright just like printed materials.

2. If I take a copyrighted photo or image and change 10 percent of it, does that mean I can use it without infringing on the copyright?

No. This is a common myth. Only the owner of copyright in a work has the right to prepare, or to authorize someone else to create, a new version of that work. You can't claim copyright to someone else's work, no matter how much you change it, unless you get that person's permission. See U.S. Copyright Office Circular 14, Copyright Registration for Derivative Works (PDF - 383KB), for more information.

3. How do I get permission to use something that is copyrighted?

Please contact the DCCCD Legal Office at 214-860-2470 for guidance.


4. If a photo or an article is on the Internet, isn’t it in the public domain?

Unless the owner explicitly puts it in the public domain, or the copyright has expired, it is not. The content on a Web site - including text, graphics, video and music - is usually considered copyrighted, just like printed materials, because it's fixed in a tangible form.

5. How do I know if something is copyrighted?

It's not always easy to do. Some people think an item must have a copyright symbol on it to be covered by copyright, but that's not true. Usually, if you want to know if something is copyrighted, you have to know when it was published. (A chart by Lolly Gasaway, University of North Carolina, defines the length of copyright.)

After copyright has expired, the item passes into the public domain and may be freely used and copied. Other materials not covered by copyright (in the public domain) are federal government documents.

Stanford University's Web site provides a good explanation of public domain and how it works.

6. We’re a nonprofit educational institution. Doesn’t that mean we’re exempt from copyright law?

No. The fair use provision of U.S. copyright law and the TEACH Act do allow nonprofit educational institutions to use copyrighted materials without permission under certain circumstances. However, this does not mean DCCCD is exempt from copyright law.

The ways in which DCCCD employees may use copyrighted materials without permission are also generally limited to educational/instructional uses. That means that, in most cases, copyrighted materials can be used only with permission for Student Life activities, by the Marketing/Communications/PI Offices and for other uses that are not directly related to teaching.

See additional information on this topic in the Campus Guide to Copyright (see “Content Use for Business Purposes”).

7. Do I have to get permission to link to another Web site from my Web site?

In most cases, no. Links between Web sites are an essential component of the World Wide Web, and the courts have generally ruled that linking does not constitute copyright infringement. However, there are some exceptions, such as linking directly to an image in such a way that it isn't clear the image resides on another Web site. For more information on this topic, see Bitlaw.

8. It’s OK to use copyrighted articles in my department newsletter as long as I credit the source, right?

No. Even if you credit the source, using an entire copyrighted article in your department newsletter would constitute copyright infringement, unless you get permission from the copyright holder. Under the rules of fair use, you may be able to use a small portion of the article without permission.

9. What are the district’s policies regarding copyright?

The DCCCD Board of Trustees has established several policies that address copyright. You can read them online in the DCCCD Board Policy Manual. They include:

10. I work in Student Life and want to plan a movie night for students. Can I just rent a copy of the movie I want to show at my local video store?
 
No. Movies you rent at the local video store are licensed for in-home use only, not for public performance. To screen a video in a public place, you must get the tape or DVD from a vendor that rents you the movie with public performance rights.

Haverford College's Audio Visual Services Department has a Web page with a good explanation of the rules for public performance of video recordings.

If you have questions about the procedures that should be used at your location, contact your college's Media or Instructional Support Services department or the DCCCD Legal Office.