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Copyright and Legal Media FAQs

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It’s important to remember that every audio, visual, or textual work has copyright protection unless that protection has expired over time or its creator places it in the public domain. A work does not need to have a copyright notice or the copyright symbol to be copyright protected. This means that even a person's snapshots, tape recordings, email, and home videos are protected by copyright.

You generally must seek permission from the copyright owner to use all or any substantial portion of a copyrighted work. In the case of most copyrighted materials, the best place to start is the publisher, who is often authorized to give permission. If not, the publisher may be able to refer you to the copyright owner. When seeking permission, always remember to be very specific about your intended use. Describe in detail such things as your role in using the work; the medium in which the copyrighted work will be used; how many times and in what way the work will be duplicated, altered, or reproduced; how many people will see or consume the work; whether or not the intended use is for profit; and how the work will be distributed.

Obtain permission to use the work from the department that administers it. For further information regarding the use of Penn State owned and copyrighted materials, contact the Office of Technology Management at 814-865-6277. 

The University seal, identity mark, the Intercollegiate Athletics logo, the Nittany Lion Statue, and the words “The Pennsylvania State University,” “Penn State,” “PSU,” “Nittany Lion(s),” and “The Nittany Lion Inn,” are trademarked and owned by Penn State. For more information on the use of these marks by University employees or students, contact the Department of University Marketing at 814-863-1870. Use of any registered University symbols by non-University individuals must be cleared by the Office of Licensing Programs at 814-865-0356. 

The songs “Alma Mater,” “Fight On State,” and “The Nittany Lion” are also copyrighted by the University. For information regarding use of these and other Penn State musical compositions, contact the Penn State Blue Band Office at 814-865-3982.

Prior to use, permission should be requested from the department administering Penn State-owned material for which no copyright claims have been registered. Keep in mind that even if copyright claims are not registered, copyrights exist on any piece of work that has been expressed in any fixed medium. 

Penn State-owned works that aren’t necessarily copyrighted include maps, graphics, photographs, and slides. For information regarding permission to use University maps, contact the Department of Geography at 814-865-3433. For information regarding permission to use images of University buildings and structures, contact the Department of University Marketing at 814-863-1870.

Site licenses are a convenient source for obtaining copyrighted works since the University has already established an agreement. Before using something from a site-licensed collection, contact the manager of the site license to make sure your intended use is covered by the agreement.

Works that are in the public domain (and are designated as such) are available for Penn State community members to use without permission. You must be certain that something you wish to use has come into the public domain through the expiration of its copyright or has been placed in the public domain by its creator. For information on determining the public domain status of a particular work, contact a University librarian. 

Products that are identified as “shareware licensed” are available for use in compliance with their license, which generally requests a small payment for use after the fact. Few audio or visual images or image collections are in the shareware category.

Many works have unclear ownership because their copyright ownership has changed over time or because they have so often appeared in public performance and display that their ownership has become unclear. Before using something that has unclear copyright ownership, seek as much assistance in clarifying ownership as possible. When in doubt, do not receive, use, or distribute unauthorized copies of copyrighted works.

Not necessarily. Unless a standing permission to use a particular work for any purpose is negotiated, permissions to use copyrighted works are usually granted on a one-time basis for a specific use. Keep in mind that Penn State purchases site licenses for certain materials. Managers of specific collections will be able to assist you in determining whether a site license is available and can help you comply with the conditions of the license agreement. 

Only if such permission is explicitly stated. Agreements will state exactly which persons or groups are entitled to use a work and for what purposes. For your department to use a product to which only you are given permission, an additional agreement would have to exist extending permission. 

This is one of the trickiest and least understood areas of copyright law. Using a copyrighted work for educational purposes may be permitted under a legal doctrine known as "fair use," but any use for educational purposes is not permitted automatically. If in doubt, check with the copyright holder, the Copyright Clearance Office at 814-865-0735, or the Office of Technology Management at 814-865-6277.

Fair use is a legal doctrine that allows for brief excerpts of copyrighted works to be used for the purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research without the need for permission from the copyright holder. If a use qualifies as fair use it is not considered copyright infringement. 

There are generally four factors that should be considered before a copyrighted work can be used under the doctrine of fair use. These factors are for guidance and are not exhaustive.

  • Is the purpose and character of the use commercial or nonprofit/educational? Nonprofit, educational purposes are more likely to be considered fair use.
  • Is the work factual or creative? The more factual and less creative a work is (a news report versus a song) the more likely it is to be considered fair use.
  • How much of the work will be used in relation to the size of the work as a whole? Usually, only short passages of a literary work that do not convey or express the "heart" of the work are permitted under fair use. For this reason, single visual images often don’t meet the criterion for fair use since images are usually used in their entirety.
  • What will the effect of the use be on the value or market of the copyrighted work? The owner or creator of the work should not suffer significant monetary damages to be considered fair use.

The copyright owner has the exclusive right to authorize copying/editing a version of a work or creating a derivative work from the original in a different medium. Making a copy in a different medium without appropriate authorization is a violation of the owner's rights unless the activity is covered by such copyright provisions as fair use. What you do or intend to do with a copy is also important. For concerns or questions about transforming and copying copyrighted material, contact the Office of Technology Management at 814-865-6277.

You must always secure permission from the owner, if not previously stated, before storing any copyrighted work, unless your use falls under an exclusion such as the fair use doctrine.

Only if you own the copyright or otherwise have permission to do so. If you do not have specific permission, the posting would have to fall under an exemption such as fair use. Keep in mind that if a work is distributed online, you should not assume you can use it. Some products are made available online with copyright notices, but many are not. Liability for unauthorized copying and distribution can extend not only to the person who posted it but also to those who access, download, and forward the items.

Sound and movie clips are often posted online for anyone to download without having to pay a fee. Since the sources of these infringements are often untraceable websites, online service providers—like Penn State—can be called as alternative defendants in court since they connect customers with these sites. Though, there are liability provisions as part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that can help limit potential damages that online service providers, including libraries and educational institutions, might incur in these situations.

An online service provider (OSP) should take action when it has knowledge of an infringement from a copyright owner; the OSP does not have to monitor or discover the infringing behavior itself.

  • Designate an agent to receive statutory notices from copyright owners about infringements and send statutory notices to affected subscribers.
  • Advise the Copyright Clearance Office of the agent's name and address and post that information on the online service provider’s site.
  • Develop and post a policy for termination of repeat offenders and provide network users with information about copyright laws.
  • Comply with "take down" and "put back" notice requirements.
  • Ensure the system accommodates industry-standard technical measures to protect works from unlawful access and copyright infringement.