One of the more recent additions to copyright is that most things that were published in 1923 are now part of the public domain; this means these items are no longer copyrighted and can be used freely. For instance, this picture of Harold Lloyd in the movie Safety Last can be used and any theater can show the movie The Ten Commandments without being charged a fee.
Over time, the laws and rules of copyright have changed. Currently, the US has treaties with other countries which allows the original author and their heir to hold a copyright on materials.
There is another idea in copyright called “fair use.” It is an exception to copyright law and allows for the right of:
- Reproduction of a work or part of a work
- The distribution of works
- Public performance
- Public display
- Digital transmission (sound recordings only).
This idea allows libraries to send items out on interlibrary loan, let teachers share things in the classroom and other possible uses.
There are four factors that someone must consider to see if fair use can be applied. The four factors include:
- An expression of an idea.
- Fixed in a tangible medium
- Value of use
Fair Use Checklist
In order to balance the ideas of access to information and copyright, there are guidelines that have been created to help librarians and users if they are within the limits of fair use. This checklist allows someone to consider different factors in making a decision whether an item such as a book, film, picture or other media can be used even if an item has a copyright. If someone is using a copyrighted item in the classroom, for research, and for an educational institution, this favors fair use and under many circumstances would be allowed. If the item under question is for commercial use, someone is profiting from using the item and denying the original author credit; this leans against fair use and might be against the law to use the material because of copyright infringement.
There are certain things that cannot be copyrighted, such as recipes and facts. Other things that cannot be copyrighted are titles, short phrases, and US Government Documents. State documents are usually not copyrighted although once in a while there is copyrighted material in a state document, especially if an outside author or firm has been contracted to produce a document or part of a document. Items that were once under copyright but the copyright expired become part of the public domain and can be used.
Monkey selfies cannot be copyrighted. Monkeys or any animal do not have the right to copyright their work because they are not human. This is a real court case of a monkey selfie. A photographer set up the picture. Then the monkey took the camera and took a picture of herself. The monkey picture is online and is in the public domain. The camera owner also does not have copyright because he did not take the picture.
A newer way of dealing with copyrighted documents or images is Creative Commons licensing. According to their website:
Every license helps creators — we call them licensors if they use our tools — retain copyright while allowing others to copy, distribute, and make some uses of their work — at least non-commercially. Every Creative Commons license also ensures licensors get the credit for their work they deserve. Every Creative Commons license works around the world and lasts as long as applicable copyright lasts.There are 6 licenses in the Creative Commons licensing as listed on their website.
- A) CC BY (Attribution) This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.
- B) CC BY-SA (Attribution-Share Alike) This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.
- C) CC BY-ND (Attribution-No-Derivatives) This license lets others reuse the work for any purpose, including commercially; however, it cannot be shared with others in adapted form, and credit must be provided to you.
- D) CC BY-NC (Attribution-Non-Commercial) This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.
- E) CC BY-NC-SA (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike) This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.
- F) CC BY-NC-ND (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike-NoDerivatives) This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.
If one wants to use images that are free of copyright, one can look at images that have CC0 licensing through Creative Commons. The CC0 means there are zero restrictions on these images and you do not even have to mention the person that is responsible for the image which is called an attribution. These images are in the public domain and there are no restrictions on them.
Flickr images can be used although it is good to check with whomever owns the images to see if they want credit or have other restrictions.
A search for items in the public domain can be done but if you do a search you may get a warning that the images may be under copyright, especially if you are searching images in Google.
For more information
- Copyright Basics and Exceptions from Massachusetts Library Systems
- Copyright by Carol Simpson 2018. Once you get to this sight, click on the image known as a pikochart to enlarge it.
- Go here for more information on the various Creative Commons licenses.
- Images Creative Commons License.
- Public Domain Images with a CC0 license.
- Here is an article about Public Domain Day on Jan 1, 2019.
- Duke Law has examples of the many items that went into the public domain on Jan. 1, 2019.