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Scholarly Communication: What do students need to know about copyright?

The Scholarly Communications committee provides Bucknell’s faculty scholars with customized information, education, and guidance as well as the technical resources and support services needed throughout all steps of the scholarly communications process.


What do students need to know about copyright?**

There are two main things should consider regarding copyright:

  1. Works they use for academic, personal, or professional purposes may be protected by copyright \

  2. Works they create for personal or academic purposes* are protected by copyright and they may be the sole copyright holder, or a joint copyright holder

Presumably, students already know that when they complete assignments they have to cite their sources to give credit to creators of the content they borrow in order to avoid plagiarism. But they may not be aware that they are also responsible for ensuring that their use of others’ work does not violate copyright law. Here are a few things they may not know about copyright:

  • Copyright gives the creator of a work the exclusive right to reproduce, adapt, publish, perform, and display the work
  • Copyright is automatic and applies to any original creative work that is fixed in a tangible medium, whether or not you see a copyright symbol
  • Copyright covers many kinds of works:
    • Books
    • Textbooks
    • Photos
    • Sculpture
    • Video/film
    • Websites
    • Choreography
    • Computer programs
    • The drawing you made on a paper napkin at the Bison last week
  • Copyright does not cover works such as:
    • Facts/ideas
    • Recipes
    • Processes
    • Works published by the U.S. Government
    • Works for which copyright has expired (these works are considered to be in the “public domain”)
  • When you create original work outside the context of your professional employment* you (and any co-creators) are the copyright holder and enjoy the same protections that apply to other copyright holders. 

They may not be aware that fair use is a limitation on copyright that may allow them to use copyrighted material without permission for certain purposes, including for teaching and scholarship, criticism, parody, and journalistic reporting.  

There is a growing movement among content creators to license their copyrighted works to allow others to use the content in certain ways without permission. Internationally binding legal licenses applied to such works spell out the ways the works can be used. It is important to recognize that when a creator licenses their work, they still enjoy the rights conveyed by copyright! Students can learn more about this movement, and about how to apply licenses to their own creative works at Creative

The American Library Association has created a slider tool to help us determine if a work is covered under copyright, and therefore requires permission for use (beyond fair use). 

Students may enjoy this Disney mashup copyright explainer video, “A Fair(y) Use Tale,” created by Professor Eric Faden. 

*In many cases, works-for-hire (content created in the course of working for an employer) are the intellectual property of the employer and they are the copyright holders, so we’ll leave those works out of this discussion for now

**Disclosure: Copyright law can be quite complicated. We’re not attorneys, and we can’t give legal advice. This is just a really brief overview.