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Scholarly Communications

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Public Domain

Some works are not eligible for copyright protection.  Facts, ideas, concepts, principles, discoveries, formulae, lists of ingredients, lists of common facts, charts, common symbols, rules of grammar, government publications, proverbs require no permission to reproduce.

Works for which copyright has expired enter the public domain. Use this chart developed by P. B. Hirtle, Cornell University, to begin to determine when the copyright term ends and works enter into the public domain.

This ebook describes how to search for public domain materials that you can freely use. The Public Domain: How to find Copyright-free Writings, Music, Art & More.

Obtaining Permission & Payment of Fees

Permission from copyright holders and the payment of a fee are sometimes needed, even when creating course materials. You need to obtain permission when you use a work in a way that infringes on the exclusive rights granted to a copyright holder (i.e. outside the boundaries of fair use). In the case of course reserves and interlibrary loan photocopies that exceed copyright limits, the Library will take care of the copyright permission and associated fees.

If you are a club or a faculty member or a student who wants to use a portion of copyrighted works in something you are publishing, you are required to take the necessary steps.   

  1. Determine if permission is needed for the work you want to use. See Fair Use Worksheet, then consult with Inga H. Barnello.
  2. Identify the copyright holder or find contact for a literary estate**. (See box below.)
  3. Oftentimes publishers have "permissions" sections on their websites that contain online permission forms. If not, send written request for permission to use (See Sample Letter to republish content). For more information, visit the Copyright Clearance Center's Obtaining Permission page. It is an agent for many, but not all, print and digital materials copyright holders. See sample permission letters (by format) from Columbia University's site. Give yourself ample lead time, as the process for obtaining permissions can take weeks. Decide if you are willing to pay a licensing fee/royalty.
  4. If the copyright holder can't be located or does not respond (or if you are unwilling to pay a license fee), be prepared to use a limited amount that qualifies for fair use, or use alternative material.

Finding Who Holds the Rights to a Work

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