Copyright Basics

Use these brief descriptions to for an orientation to the general areas of copyright concerns. Don't forget to click on More >> in each section to see extensive information about each of these legal areas.

| What is Copyright? | How Long Does Copyright Last? | What is Fair Use? |

| What is the TEACH Act? | What is the DMCA? | What Should I Know About Filesharing and P2P? |

| Who Owns Copyrightable Works Created at CUNY? |

What is Copyright?


Copyright is a form of protection granted by U.S. law to the creators of “original works of authorship” including literary, dramatic, musical, and certain other creative works. It gives the author of the work certain exclusive rights, including the rights to reproduce the work and to distribute, perform and display it publicly. Under current law, authors do not have to register a work or attach a copyright notice in order for copyright protection to apply to the work; the protection exists automatically from the time the work is created in a fixed form (e.g., a text, a sound or video recording, dance notation, a photograph). More >>

How Long Does Copyright Last?

The period of time that a work is protected by copyright depends on when the work was created and/or published. A work created by an individual and first published today in the U.S. would be protected for 70 years after the death of the author. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg; the rules can seem complicated and this chart <pdf> can assist you in determining whether a work is in the public domain, and if not, how long it will be protected by copyright. All works first published in the U.S. before 1923 are in the public domain and are no longer protected by copyright. More >>

What is Fair Use?

Fair use is a limitation on the exclusive rights of a copyright holder. If a proposed use meets the “fair use” criteria, a copyrighted work may be used without permission of the copyright holder. Section 107 of the Copyright Act states that the “fair use” of a copyrighted work, including reproduction for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. Not all educational uses are “fair.” Section 107 lists four factors that must be considered in determining whether or not a use is fair, consequently the result of a fair use analysis will vary depending on the facts of the situation. More>>

The Technology Education and Copyright Harmonization (TEACH) Act refers to changes made to Section 110 of the Copyright Act that describe the conditions under which instructors and students may perform and display copyrighted materials in a virtual or digital classroom without obtaining permission from the copyright owner. These are bright-line rules; if your proposed use meets all the TEACH Act requirements, permission is not required to use the work. If your proposed use does not meet all the requirements, the use may still be permitted without permission of the copyright holder under fair use.

A key point to remember is that the TEACH Act is intended to cover classroom-type instruction delivered digitally, including over the internet. It does not cover materials an instructor may want students to study, read, listen to or watch on their own time outside of class, including electronic reserves. For these uses, the instructor must continue to rely on the principals of fair use. More>>

What is the DMCA?

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is an amendment to the Copyright Act that provides internet service providers (ISPs) such as CUNY with safe harbors from liability for copyright infringement by users of the service, if the ISP complies with certain conditions. In order to receive the safe harbor protection, the DMCA requires CUNY to respond when notified of infringing material located on CUNY networks. CUNY receives notices every week on behalf of copyright owners alleging that people have used CUNY servers to illegally download music, software, movies, TV shows and other media. Consistent with the DMCA, CUNY then takes step to confirm the file sharing and identify and discipline the user. More <pdf>

What Should I Know About Filesharing and P2P?

Peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing programs have become a popular way to exchange music, movies, games and software over the Internet. Academic applications of these programs are also expanding. If you use P2P programs, we want you to be aware of certain personal risks.

P2P file-sharing programs are not illegal. If you own the copyright in the music, movie, software or other file you want to share, if you have the permission of the copyright holder, or if the material is not covered by copyright ["Length of copyright" charts], you can share the file. However, P2P programs are often used to distribute files without permission of the copyright holder and this is a violation of U.S. copyright law. More >>

Who Owns Copyrightable Works Created at CUNY?

Ownership of intellectual property created by full-time and part-time faculty, staff, and graduate students engaged in faculty-directed research, as well as individuals compensated by grant funds made available to the University by or through the Research Foundation is covered by the CUNY Intellectual Property Policy . The general rule is that Copyrightable Works are owned by their creator. This means that faculty members typically own the copyright in their scholarly and pedagogical works.

Most students are not covered by the CUNY Intellectual Property Policy. Their ownership rights are governed by the Copyright Act, which grants copyright ownership to the author of a work (i.e., the student), unless it is a work-for-hire. Consequently, classroom assignments, student papers and the like are owned by the student. More >>