Old Dominion University Libraries

Copyright and Copywrong

A seminar presented by Old Dominion University Libraries, University Counsel, and Center for Learning Technologies -- April 2010

Considerations for Teaching @ ODU

Because of the proliferation of digital resources, copyright law continues to change. Even copyright experts have varying interpretations. This workshop focuses on copyright issues for teaching materials -- text, images, music, video, etc. -- inside the classroom, online, and televised.

Some Basic Definitions:


gives authors and creators the power to allow or prohibit certain uses of their work. (Title 17, U. S. Code) The Constitutional purpose of copyright is to promote the progress of science and the useful arts.


allows for various educational uses of copyrighted works without permission of the author or creator.

Section 107 contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work

The distinction between fair use and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission. (It is advisable to use a "Fair Use Checklist" and keep it on file.)


“A public domain work is a creative work that is not protected by copyright and which may be freely used by everyone.” (from UNC)  Examples include:

  • Published works that were never copyrighted
  • Published works with expired copyrights: Copyrights dated 75 years or more prior to the current year may or may not have expired, depending on whether the copyright owner renewed the copyright after the first term of protection
  • Government publications
  • Works published before 1923
  • Works published before 1989 which do not contain a notice of copyright, unless that work “has been rescued” subsequently and now is copyrighted.
    • Any work published after March 1, 1989 is protected by copyright even if no notice of copyright is present.


"Digital Millennium Copyright Act" 1998 addresses copyright as it relates to digital technologies.

  • allows more copies for preservation & archival purposes
  • prohibits circumvention of technology that prevents access to a work and prohibits manufacture or sale of anti-circumvention technologies
  • limits liability of online service providers (OSP) who must take down challenged pages and educate staff about the law.


"Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization Act" addresses the needs for educational uses of copyrighted materials in distance learning.

  • eliminates constraints that allowed limited transmission of content only to classrooms and other similar locations
  • provides guidelines for interpreting fair use in regard to online programs such as Blackboard
  • allows the digitizing of analog or print works, but in most cases only if the work is not already available in digital form

Faculty must comply with the many and diverse requirements of the law. The rights of use are also often limited to certain works, in limited portions, and only under rigorously defined conditions. See Wake Forest University’s guide “Copyright and Blackboard.” 


  • Faculty are responsible for copyright compliance.
  • If in doubt, seek permission.
  • “There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission.”
  • “Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.”
  • It is not necessary to have a notice of copyright ©  for material to be copyright protected in the U.S.  Once something tangible is produced, text, graphics, music, video, etc., it is automatically copyrighted.
  • If you link to someone’s Web site, let them know – as a courtesy.

    DISCLAIMER: Information on this Web site is intended to provide guidance to faculty in making efforts to uphold copyright laws. Specific questions should be directed to University Counsel.