UTRGV Library Copyright Guide

This guide is for students and faculty looking for basic copyright information. The information in this guide has been kept to a minimum with links out to more exhaustive resources. 

All copyright related questions can be directed to the Scholarly Communications Department at scholarlycommunications@utrgv.edu. Faculty can request copyright instruction for their course by emailing justin.white@utrgv.edu.

If you have questions about other intellectual property like trademarks and patents, reach out to the Office of Technology Commercialization via their contact form here: https://www.utrgv.edu/otc/contact/index.htm

Frequently Asked Questions

Copyright law provides educators with a separate set of rights in addition to fair use, to display (show) and perform (show or play) others' works in the classroom. These rights are in Section 110(1) of the Copyright Act and apply to any work, regardless of the medium.

The TEACH Act of 2002, expanded the scope of online educators' rights to perform and display works and to make copies integral to such performances and displays, making the rights closer to those we have in face-to-face teaching. But there is still a considerable gap between what the statute authorizes for face-to-face teaching and for online education. For example, as indicated above, an educator may show or perform any work related to the curriculum, regardless of the medium, face-to-face in the classroom. There are no limits and no permissions required.

A fair use assessment also remains important because the in-classroom activities (even if the classroom is virtual) the TEACH Act authorizes are a small subset of the uses of online resources educators may wish to make. It only covers in class performances and displays, not, for example, supplemental online reading, viewing, or listening materials. For those activities, as well as many others, we'll need to continue to rely on fair use. Remember, however, when relying on fair use, the fair use test is sensitive to harm to markets. This means that in general, where there is an established market for permissions, there will often be a narrower scope for fair use, and our reliance on fair use should be limited. On the other hand, where it's near impossible to get permission, for example, for music and movies where those industries are not yet very responsive to the needs of online educators, the scope of fair use expands to permit reasonable uses of such materials for both in person and online students. So, fair use will likely be very helpful for using music and movies in the classroom and as supplementary materials. 

The UTRGV Library provides support for online courses by licensing streaming video via multiple databases, and also digitizes physical media when no streaming option exists. Streaming video requests must be submitted via this form so the library can evaluate what is available for streaming and whether a physical copy will be needed: https://utrgv.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_d76gNjHAZ5qHK9n.

You can also learn more at our Streaming Video Guide.

Copyright is a government-granted monopoly that exists for authors of intellectual and creative works which grants owners a set of exclusive rights over how their work is used for a limited period of time. Copyright is not perpetual, and only works that are set in a particular medium of expression are copyrightable (an idea is not copyrightable). 

There are various arguments for and against the efficacy of copyright. Proponents claim copyright law provides an incentive to authors to produce and share their work with the public. This is mainly an economic incentive because it gives authors the opportunity to be financially compensated for their work. Copyright delivers a benefit to authors to allow them to control how their work is used (or not) by others. However many authors sign over their copyright to other entities and do not retain control over their work, leading to massive copyright accumulation by companies. Also authors who are employees of a company do not have copyright in their works made as part of their employment.

This leads to a majority of cultural materials being under monopoly control long after those works have ceased generating revenue, while long copyright terms copyright prevents their creative reuse and redistribution.

Generally, a copyright owner is the original creator or author of the work. In some cases, such as in a work-made-for-hire situation, the copyright owner is the employer. 

For jointly created works, copyright may be owned by more than one person. For example, both the author and the illustrator of a children's book are copyright owners of that book since they each contributed creative content to it. 

Copyright can also be transferred to someone else. This requires a written agreement, signed by the author. Journal publishers often request that authors transfer copyrights when publishing scholarly articles.

A copyright owner has the exclusive right to:

  • Make copies
  • Distribute copies
  • Create derivative works (modify & create new works based on the original)
  • Publicly perform a work
  • Publicly display a work

This means that anyone else who wants to copy, share, perform or display someone else’s work in public needs to get permission before doing so unless there is an exception that allows this type of activity

Performances and displays are considered “public” when they occur in public places which are open to anyone, such as: classrooms, the student union, and campus commons areas. Websites, blogs, YouTube and other file-sharing sites, where access is open to anyone, are also public spaces.

By contrast, private spaces are those places normally limited to family and friends such as a home or dorm room.

Public performances include concerts, movie screenings, and background music in restaurants. Public displays include art exhibits, placing copies of an article on Blackboard, posting a video to YouTube, or uploading an mp3 to a file-sharing network.

Copyright is established automatically at the moment a work is created. No notice or official registration is required by the author and protection extends to both published and unpublished works. In fact, protection extends to just about any type of intellectual work including literary texts, dramatic works, dance choreography, musical works, artwork, photography, audio & video recordings, and architectural works.

Despite the broad coverage of what can be copyrighted, not everything is eligible for protection. There are a few requirements which must be met in order for something to be eligible.

  1. A work must be “fixed” in a “tangible” form. This means that it must be written or recorded so that someone can read, watch, or listen to it.
  2. A work must be original and demonstrate a minimal level of creativity. In other words, it must be created by the author and not just copied word-for-word from something else.

The bar is set very low for the level of creativity required to qualify for protection and does not depend on the quality of the writing or the talent of the author. Even a simple e-mail message may be eligible for copyright.

Even if something meets the requirements discussed above it still may not be eligible for protection. Material that is not protected by copyright includes:

  • Works with expired copyright.
    • Copyright is granted for a limited amount of time. Once it expires, that work is no longer eligible for copyright protection.
  • US Federal documents
  • Facts, ideas and concepts
  • Information that is “Common Property” such as rulers, height and weight charts, or tables found in public documents
  • Words, names, slogans & short phrases
  • Procedures and processes

A lot of the material listed above is in the Public Domain and is free for anyone to use without permission or payment of royalties, however, some things which are not protected by copyright may be protected by other intellectual property laws, such as patent or trademark laws.

With a few exceptions, much of the material we encounter on a day-to-day basis is likely to be protected by copyright. It is important to be aware of your rights and responsibilities when using the works of others in the course of research, study, and teaching.