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Copyright FAQ

Q: Is plagiarism a violation of copyright?

A: No. Plagiarism and copyright both concern "copying" but plagiarism is about the protection of ideas, while copyright doesn't protect ideas -- copyright protects "the fixed expression of ideas." An act of plagiarism is about the misrepresentation of the ownership of an idea.

You can avoid a charge of plagiarism by citing your sources properly.

Q: Can I show a Netflix movie in my classroom?

A: According to Title 17, Chapter 1, § 110(1) you may show all or part of a movie, in a face-to-face (F2F) classroom, provided that the movie was made lawfully and it is for educational use only and not for entertainment or commercial use.

But, keep in mind that a license agreement supersedes copyright. Netflix's Terms of Use state, albeit ambiguously, that the Netflix subscription service is for personal and non-commercial use only. And so while Netflix has been known to turn a blind eye toward reports of classroom viewings, this may not be considered a personal use.

Q: Can I distribute an article to my class or the entire campus as an email attachment?

A: Probably not. You should assume that the article is protected by copyright, and distributing copyrighted documents to a mass mailing list or listserv constitutes “systematic copying,” which falls outside of fair use and is in violation of copyright law. Also, most of the library's subscription databases and e-journals prohibit the wide distribution of articles through e-mail. To avoid a potential copyright violation, apply the four factors using the Fair Use Checklist, and stay within the bounds of fair use by using one of these alternatives.

Alternative methods of delivery:

  • include a link to the article in your email message
  • ask the library to put the article on reserve for your course
  • post a link to the article in Blackboard

Tip: If the article is available in one of the library's databases or e-journal subscriptions, use their permanent or persistent URL to link directly to the article.

Q: Can I copy, or ask AV to copy, an old movie from VHS videotape onto a DVD, so it will be more convenient to show in my classroom?

A: No. Copying from one format to another (e.g. tape to DVD) without permission of the copyright owner violates copyright law, except for the limited provisions of Section 108 of the copyright code which apply to libraries and archives.

  • If the movie is available for purchase on DVD, ask the Library to purchase it for the Media Library collection.
  • AV cannot convert a film from one format to another unless you provide them with written permission from the copyright owner.
  • If a DVD is not available for purchase at a reasonable price, and it is not possible to obtain permission from the copyright owner, copying a portion of the tape might weigh in favor of fair use.

Regarding the provision for libraries and archives, under Section 108, if a work is published, preservation copies can be made to replace an original that is "damaged, deteriorating, lost, or stolen, or if the existing format in which the work is stored has become obsolete." But those copies can only be used within the confines of the library or archive.

Q: Can I share copyrighted material, like music, if I don't charge for it?

A: No. It is illegal to share or distribute copyrighted material without permission from the copyright holder, even if you have a legal copy.

Q: I received a copyright violation complaint, but I haven't shared any copyrighted material. Could this really happen?

A: Yes. If you have a file sharing program that is active on your computer, it could be sharing files (e.g., music, movies, etc.) while you’re online. To prevent inadvertent or deliberate file sharing you should remove the file sharing software, or at the very least, disable the peer-to-peer (P2P) software's uploading capability. And never share your network ID and password.

More Information:

Tip: If you think your computer has been accessed without your permission contact the ITS Help Desk for assistance.