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Frequently Asked Questions

Using Works Created by Others

If I find it on the web, it’s free to use, right?

How can I tell if copyright has been renewed?

Is it fair use to post copyrighted materials on my course web page?

Do I need permission to reuse a table or figure?

What about a work that has been published outside of the United States?

Managing My Copyright

Are there special exceptions for people with disabilities using copyrighted works?

Why would I want to register my copyright?

How do I put a copyright notice on my work?

How can I put a work in the public domain?

Where can I learn more about providing Open Access to my work?

Protecting My Copyrighted Works

What can I do if I find my work being distributed online without my permission?

How do I make sure my rights are protected when I sign a publishing agreement?

Someone has contacted me asking for permission to use my article (or book chapter, or other work). What do I do?




If I find it on the web, it’s free to use, right?

No. All of the copyright concepts apply to all media, whether digital or printed. In fact, publishers and copyright owners are more concerned about resources on the web because the audience is so vast and it is so easy to copy and distribute such materials. Remember that it is not necessary to post a copyright notice for the author to have these rights, even on the web.

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How can I tell if copyright has been renewed?

Copyright renewals only concern those works that were first published in the U.S. during the years 1923-1963. Works published during this period had to get their copyrights renewed at the U.S. Copyright Office by their 28th year in order to stay copyrighted. There is no need to research renewals for works published prior to 1923 as these are in the public domain, or after 1963 as they received an automatic 95-year copyright term. Works that were first published elsewhere before 1977, like in the United Kingdom, often have a 95 year copyright term even if they did not comply with U.S. requirements for things like renewal because of agreements the U.S. later made with other countries.

Finding out whether a particular work was renewed usually requires a search of records in the U.S. Copyright Office. For more information on this process, see U.S. Copyright Office: Circular 15: Renewal of Copyright. For works registered or renewed since 1978, search the U.S. Copyright Office online search site. Alternatively, for a fee, a researcher can arrange for the U.S. Copyright Office to conduct a search of the copyright records. For more information about the U.S. Copyright Office search service, see U.S. Copyright Office: Circular 22: How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work. Additional options include writing a letter directly to the author or publisher verifying that there was no renewal, or purchasing search services from a commercial agency. 

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Is it fair use to post copyrighted materials on my course web page?

It depends. You should look at the four factors of fair use to determine how your particular situation fares when examined using the fair use criteria. See the fair use guidance on this site for more information. In general, if access to your course web page is restricted, e.g., by use of a course management system or password, then it is more likely to be a fair use. If access is not limited, then you need to take care with the amount of material that you are copying and displaying publicly. One of the four factors of fair use is whether the copying is for commercial or for or nonprofit, educational purposes and another is the effect on the copyright owner’s market. Limiting the “purpose and character” to educational purposes, and limiting access to enrolled students, are factors weighing in favor of fair use.

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Do I need permission to reuse a table or figure?

While facts and data are generally not eligible for copyright, it is possible for the creative arrangement or visual display of data – in graphic design or artistic rendering – to be copyrighted. Not all graphs and charts are eligible for copyright protection, though. See more information from the University of Michigan on the Copyrightability of Charts, Tables, and Graphs. Even if a figure has copyrightable expression, permission is not required if the reuse qualifies as fair use.

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What about a work that has been published outside of the United States?

Copyright law is territorial. Reproduction and other uses in the United States are governed by U.S. law and agreements between the U.S. and other countries. Copyright protection in other countries depends on the laws of the particular country. Most countries offer protection to foreign works under certain conditions that have been greatly simplified by international copyright treaties and conventions.

There are two principal international copyright conventions, the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (Berne Convention) and the Universal Copyright Convention (UCC). 

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Are there special exceptions for people with disabilities using copyrighted works?

It is generally permissible to reproduce or distribute copies of certain copyrighted works, such as instructional materials, if such copies are reproduced or distributed in specialized formats for use by individuals with disabilities. Examples include providing a digital or Braille copy of a textual work to enable use by students with print disabilities, or providing a captioned version of a video when such version is not commercially available so that the video may be used by a deaf or hard–of-hearing student. For more information about services and resources to accommodate disabilities, contact the office for disability resources on your campus.

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Why would I want to register my copyright?

Although copyright protection in a work attaches at the moment of creation and is not lost for failure to register, a prerequisite to a lawsuit alleging copyright infringement is registration with the U.S. Copyright Office. Thus, you could register a copyright after an infringement has occurred, but you may not obtain either statutory (as opposed to actual) damages or attorneys' fees if the registration was not made within three months of the first publication of the work (sections 411 and 412 of the U.S. copyright law).

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How do I put a copyright notice on my work?

A copyright notice is an identifier placed on a work to inform the world of copyright ownership.  Though copyright notices are no longer necessary, it is recommended to include a clear, standard copyright notice in a prominent location for publications, multimedia, Web pages, and software. If the copyright owner is an entity such as The Regents of the University of California, acknowledgment of the owners may be included under the copyright notice. A copyright notice must contain either the word "Copyright," the abbreviation "Copr.," or the symbol "©." Although not required, you can include both the word "Copyright" and the symbol. The word or symbol is followed by the year of first publication and then the name of the copyright owner.

The standard form for a copyright notice on works belonging to the University is:

Copyright © 2016 The Regents of the University of California

All Rights Reserved

OR

Copyright © 2016 The Regents of the University of California

All Rights Reserved

Created by John Smith and Mary Doe

Department of Statistics

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How can I put a work in the public domain?

Since copyright attaches automatically upon the creation of an original work that is fixed in a tangible medium of expression, such work gets copyright protection from the outset. Consequently, if you want others to have free use of your work, you can make it clear, preferably in the work itself, that you do not assert any copyright ownership and waive any copyright interest.  Alternatively, without dedicating your work to the public domain, you can instead retain copyright ownership but grant a non-exclusive, royalty-free, fully-paid up license to another person to use, reproduce, modify, and prepare derivative works based upon the original work. Creative Commons provides further explanation and examples of different types of licenses, as well as a public domain dedication tool. For computer software, the Open Source Initiative has posted sample "open source" software license agreements that function similarly to Creative Commons licenses.

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Where can I learn more about providing Open Access to my work?

The University of California’s Office of Scholarly Communication has information on the policies, depositing your work into UC’s eScholarship repository, and obtaining a waiver, embargo, or addendum.

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What can I do if I find my work being distributed online without my permission?

It is increasingly common to find infringing material on websites sharing course materials for college courses. Such websites, which allow users to upload materials, usually include information on how to remove or “take down” these course materials under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)

The DMCA allows for the expeditious takedown of infringing materials. You will need to email the website’s DMCA agent (or other appropriate contact) with certain required pieces of information, such as the URL where you found your work online and your contact information. This will often result in the removal of the material from the site. The UCLA library has provided a takedown request letter [Word Doc] that you can customize and send to the website to request that your material be removed.

For more information, see the National Press Photographers’ Association website, which goes into further detail about the requirements of this kind of takedown notice request. If you have received a takedown notice about posting an article you wrote, you can read more about responding to and preventing takedown notices at the Office of Scholarly Communication website.

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How do I make sure my rights are protected when I sign a publishing agreement?

First, read the contract carefully. If you authored a scholarly work such as an article, book, work of art, or piece of music, in the course of your teaching and research as faculty at UC, then by academic tradition and according to UC policy, you likely own the copyright. It is therefore up to you as an individual to manage the copyrights to your scholarly works.

 As of October 23, 2015, all UC employees are covered by one of the UC open access policies, which reserve broad rights for UC faculty and employees to use their scholarly articles, in particular by posting a version of them in an institutional repository. These open access policies automatically grant a non-exclusive copyright license to the University prior to any later agreements authors may make with publishers. UC retains those limited open access rights regardless of what rights authors may subsequently transfer to publishers.

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Someone has contacted me asking for permission to use my article (or book chapter, or other work). What do I do?

It’s best to be as specific as possible when granting permission for others to use your work. Think about exactly who, what, when, where, and how you are permitting your work to be used. Sometimes your work can be used without asking your permission, such as if the requested use meets the requirements of fair use.

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