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Scholarly Communication: Copyright


For a deeper dive into copyright issues, visit the Copyright Guide.  It includes sections on 

AAUP Intellectual Property Issues for Faculty

Copyright Basics

You own the copyright in your work as soon as it is fixed in tangible form. Currently the copyright term for works published in the United States is life of the author plus 70 years.

Copyright is a bundle of rights conferred on the creator to incentivize the creation of new works.  As codified in 17 US Code, the creator of a work has the exclusive right of

  • Reproduction (the right to control all forms of copying of the work);
  • Translation, abridgment, revision (the right to control derivative works);
  • Public distribution; and
  • Public performance and display.

The copyright holder can give away all or any part of this bundle, and unlike physical property a right can be both given and kept.  A grant, or license, for part of the bundle is sometimes called a permission.  Licenses are usually granted for a particular purpose for a particular period of time.  

  • Exclusive license: "I grant you the right, and no one else, including myself, can make use of the right."
  • Non-exclusive license: "I can grant several people the same right and keep the right myself." 

There are some limitations and exceptions to copyright.  The most well known are Fair Use and the Public Domain, though there are many others specifically outlined in 17 USC sections 107-122.  

  • The Fair Use exception allows use of copyrighted materials on a limited basis when that use is "for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research."  Determination of Fair Use is based on four factors: the purpose and character of the use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount and substantiality of the portion used, and the effect of the use upon the potential market for the work.
  • The Public Domain includes materials that were never covered under copyright law (for example, US government materials) and works whose copyright term has expired.  Public Domain works can be freely reproduced, modified, and distributed.  But remember, whenever you use another person's ideas or work, you must properly attribute the work to them, even if the work is in the Public Domain. 

PSU Intellectual Property Policy

Under copyright law, the copyrights of works made in the course of a person's employment or specifically commissioned are owned by the employer.  However, in the case of scholarly work done by faculty, the copyright is usually retained by the faculty.  The PSU Intellectual Property Policy is in line with this practice, stating: 

"Unless created as a Work Made for Hire, as Sponsor-Supported Intellectual Property, or as assigned in the course and scope of employment, pedagogical, scholarly or artistic works by PSU faculty, staff or students are also included as Creator Owned Intellectual Property (examples books, course materials, compositions, visual arts, dramatic works, and refereed materials).  Creator-Owned Intellectual Property also includes works of students created in the course of their education, such as theses, dissertations, papers and journal articles unless otherwise designated in another PSU Policy."

For information about intellectual asset management, visit the PSU Office of Research and Engagement.