Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Plagiarism and Copyright: Copyright, Fair Use, and Public Domain

Copyright

What is Copyright? 

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, copyright is "the exclusive right given by law for a certain term of years to an author, composer, designer, etc. (or his assignee), to print, publish, and sell copies of his original work." (http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/41314?rskey=axAOx1&result=1&isAdvanced=false#eid)

For more on copyright law see the U.S. Copyright Office

"U.S. copyright law generally gives the author/creator or owner of an original creative work an exclusive right to: 

  • Reproduce (copy) or distribute the original work to the public (e.g., create and sell copies of a film)
  • Create new works based upon the original work (e.g., make a movie based on a book)
  • Perform or display the work publicly (e.g., perform a play)"

(From https://www.teachingcopyright.org/handout/copyright-faq.html)

Cornell University's Copyright Information Center can offer even more explanations if you are interested.

Public Domain

What is in the Public Domain?

"Public domain works are not restricted by copyright and do not require a license or fee to use. Public domain status allows the user unrestricted access and unlimited creativity!

There are three main categories of public domain works:

  • Works that automatically enter the public domain upon creation, because they are not copyrightable:
    • Titles, names, short phrases and slogans, familiar symbols, numbers
    • Ideas and facts (e.g., the date of the Gettysburg Address)
    • Processes and systems
    • Government works and documents*
  • Works that have been assigned to the public domain by their creators
  • Works that have entered the public domain because the copyright on them has expired

(*Note: Use of some works, such as ideas and symbols, may be restricted by other laws, such as patent, trademark, or trade secret.)"

(From https://www.teachingcopyright.org/handout/public-domain-faq.html​)

Cornell University's Copyright Information Center can offer even more explanations if you are interested.

Fair Use

What is fair use?

"The Copyright Act gives copyright holders the exclusive right to reproduce works for a limited time period. Fair use is a limitation on this right. Fair use allows people other than the copyright owner to copy part or, in some circumstances, all of a copyrighted work, even where the copyright holder has not given permission or objects." ​(From https://www.teachingcopyright.org/handout/fair-use-faq.html​)

"How does the court know if a use is fair?

Whether a use is fair will depend on the specific facts of the use. Note that attribution has little to do with fair use; unlike plagiarism, copyright infringement (or non-infringement) doesn't depend on whether you give credit to the source from which you copied. Fair use is decided by courts on a case-by-case basis after balancing the four factors listed in section 107 of the Copyright Act. Those factors are:

  1. The purpose and character of the use of copyrighted work
    • Transformative quality - Is the new work the same as the copyrighted work, or have you transformed the original work, using it in a new and different way?
    • Commercial or noncommercial - Will you make money from the new work, or is it intended for nonprofit, educational, or personal purposes? Commercial uses can still be fair uses, but courts are more likely to find fair use where the use is for noncommercial purposes.
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
    A particular use is more likely to be considered fair when the copied work is factual rather than creative.
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
    How much of the copyrighted work did you use in the new work? Copying nearly all of the original work, or copying its "heart," may weigh against fair use. But "how much is too much" depends on the purpose of the second use. Parodies, for example, may need to make extensive use of an original work to get the point across.2
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work
    This factor applies even if the original is given away for free. If you use the copied work in a way that substitutes for the original in the market, that will weigh against fair use. Uses of copyrighted material that serve a different audience or purpose are more likely to be considered fair.

These factors are guidelines, and they are not exclusive. As a general matter, courts are often interested in whether or not the individual making use of a work has acted in good faith."

(From https://www.teachingcopyright.org/handout/fair-use-faq.html​)

Cornell University's Copyright Information Center can offer even more explanations if you are interested.