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1. I'm just a student. Why should I care about copyright?
2. How do I recognize a copyrighted work?
3. What is the difference between copyright infringement and plagiarism?
4. May I just copy chapters or exercises from a friend’s textbook instead of buying my own?
5. How may I use copyrighted materials in my class assignments, such as research papers, PowerPoint presentations and Web pages?
6. May I cut and paste a logo or picture from someone else's website and use it on my own Web page?
7. Where can I find copyright-free photos and images?
8. I download songs from file-sharing services, but I don’t share them. Is this legal?
9. Does copyright law protect me?
10. What is DCCCD’s policy about copyright?


1. I'm just a student. Why should I care about copyright?

There are a lot of good reasons. For one, knowing about copyright can save you a lot of money and trouble. In most cases, it's against the law to use copyrighted material without getting the owner's permission or paying a fee. Copyright owners can take you to court for infringement, and you could be fined up to $150,000 for each work infringed.

It's also important to understand copyright if you want to get credit for your classes and stay in school. The DCCCD Code of Student Conduct states that students must obey the law (which includes copyright law). So if you infringe on someone's copyright, you could possibly be suspended or expelled.

On the other hand, the fair use section of the 1976 U.S. Copyright Act allows students to use portions of copyrighted works, without asking permission, under certain circumstances. You owe it to yourself to understand these rights so you can legally use copyrighted materials for your class assignments, if you write a movie review for the student newspaper, and for other purposes.

2. How do I recognize a copyrighted work?

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 public domain and may be freely used and copied. Other materials not covered by copyright (in public domain) are federal government documents.

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

3. What is the difference between copyright infringement and plagiarism?

Copyright infringement is a federal crime, and you can face fines or even jail time. It involves using someone else's copyrighted material without permission. You can be charged with copyright infringement even if you give credit to the copyright holder.

Plagiarism is an ethical, moral and academic issue that involves passing off someone else's idea or work as your own. It's usually enforced by institutions (such as colleges). If you are caught plagiarizing, you might fail your class and/or get suspended or expelled from school.

You can commit plagiarism without violating copyright - for example, by including a paragraph from a book that is in the public domain in a paper you write for class without giving the author credit. You can also infringe on someone's copyright without plagiarizing - for example, if you post someone else's photo on your personal website and give them credit but don't ask their permission.

4. May I just copy chapters or exercises from a friend’s textbook instead of buying my own?

No. If you don't buy your own copy, you are infringing on the textbook publisher's copyright - and essentially, you are stealing.

5. How may I use copyrighted materials in my class assignments, such as research papers, PowerPoint presentations and Web pages?

Fair use allows you to use limited portions of copyrighted works for class assignments. If you want to use more than a very small portion of the work, or if you want to use it for a purpose outside of class (such as a personal website) that is not considered a fair use, you must get the copyright owner's permission.

6. May I cut and paste a logo or picture from someone else's website and use it on my own Web page?

If you are creating a Web page for a class, you may be able use the image, as long as you follow the rules of fair use (see question #5, above). If you are creating a website for other reasons, however, the answer is probably no, unless you obtain permission from the person or organization that holds the copyright for the logo or picture. 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.

See the Babson College website for a good FAQ on using copyrighted images.

7. Where can I find copyright-free photos and images?

Wikipedia has a list of public domain image resources. However, some of the images in these resources may not be in the public domain. Be sure to check each site for information about which images are "free" and which are not.

8. I download songs from file-sharing services, but I don’t share them. Is this legal?

In most cases, the answer is no. Usually music files are distributed on peer-to-peer file-sharing services without the copyright owner's permission. So if you download those songs, that's illegal - whether you share the songs or not - and you could face fines of up to $150,000 for each song you download. (By the way, if you use a peer-to-peer file-sharing service, you may also make your computer vulnerable to viruses, spyware and other risks.)

However, there are some "authorized" services that let you download stuff for free, and many others that let you buy copyrighted files. Some examples are MTV's Free Music Downloads and Apple's iTunes. Just be careful about the sites you use. If an offer or a service sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

9. Does copyright law protect me?

Yes. In general, any original work that you create - including papers you write for class, music you compose or photos you shoot - is protected by copyright as soon as it is in a tangible form. You do not need to put a copyright notice on your work or register it with the U.S. Copyright Office for it to be protected.

Anyone who wants to use your copyrighted work - including your professors - should ask your permission.

Registering your work does offer some extra protection, especially if you want to publish it; visit the U.S. Copyright Office website for more information on why and how to register your work.


10. What is DCCCD’s policy about copyright?

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

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