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What is a Copyright?

A copyright is a form of protection for intellectual property that grants certain privileges to a copyright holder. As the name implies, the copyright grants the right to produce copies of a creative work. Under United States Copyright Law, a copyright holder is granted certain exclusive rights to their creation including:

  • The right to reproduce the work
  • The right to create derivative works based on the original
  • The right to distribute copies of the work by sale, rental, lease, or lending
  • The right to perform or display an audio or visual work publicly

Copyright applies to a wide variety of works including, but not limited to: 

  1. Literary works
  2. Musical works, lyrics, and sound recordings
  3. Dramatic works
  4. Pantomimes and choreographic works
  5. Visual works (images, photographs, paintings, sculptures, maps, logos, etc.)
  6. Multimedia works, movies, and other audio-visual works
  7. Software code
  8. Architectural works, etc.

*NOTE: These works are protected from the moment they are in a fixed format regardless of whether they contain a copyright notice or copyright has been registered.

Public Domain

What is the public domain?

The public domain refers to those works that are not copyright protected and that can be used freely, without seeking permission. There are a number of ways a work may pass into the public domain, including the following, though you should always check carefully to determine that a particular work really is in the public domain before assuming that you may use it.

  • United States Government Documents (note that foreign documents may be copyrighted)
  • When copyrights expire the materials move into the public domain 
  • Factual and non-creative works like telephone books, standard tables of chemical information, etc.

Additional Resources:

Fair Use

What is Fair Use?

Fair use is a legal exemption to the exclusive rights of copyright holders. It is determined on a case-by-case basis and is based on a consideration of the following four factors:

  • The purpose and character of the use (including whether it is transformative, commercial, non-profit, or educational)
  • The nature of the copyrighted work
  • The amount and substantiality of the portion to be used
  • The effect upon the potential market for the copyrighted work

Because intention is a part of the consideration, only the user can make the initial assessment of whether their use is fair.

Fair use rules do not state a concrete maximum of usable material (not a number of words, or a length of time, or a percent of total). Fair use also does not mean that LCCC users can use/distribute any copyright material they want simply because LCCC is an educational non-profit. We are bound by copyright law too.

The Fair Use doctrine is often evoked whenever someone wants to use a copyright-protected work in an educational setting without the formal permission of the copyright owner. However, determining fair use is not so cut and dry: Section 107 of the copyright law lays out four factors that must be weighed in determining whether a situation can be classified as fair use:

Four Factors


1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes. Non-profit educational use is the easiest to be covered under fair use; most universities and non-profit educational institutions can easily claim fair use for this reason.
2. The nature of the copyrighted work. Factual or scientific materials tend to fit under fair use better than creative works such as fiction, poetry, plays, etc.
3. Amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole. How much of a work are you using? Are you using an entire journal issue, a large portion of the book, most of the illustrations from an article or book? The greater the amount used, the less likely it is to be fair use.
4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. Can you easily purchase the copies that you need? Is this a consumable item such as a study guide that should not be reproduced? Are you repeatedly using something under fair use when you should be paying royalties?

Any determination of Fair Use must take all FOUR factors into consideration.

How often a work is used is NOT part of the copyright law, though some publishers believe you should seek permission or pay a royalty fee for repeated use of copyrighted works.  A safe practice is to seek permission for repeated use, especially if the use is over several years, though it is not stipulated by the copyright law.

Additional Resources:

Lorain County Community College | 1005 N Abbe Rd - Elyria, OH 44035 | 1-800-995-LCCC