Copyright is a form of legal protection given to authors (or creators) of original works that are fixed in a tangible medium of expression.
The purpose of copyright is to encourage creativity by protecting works for a limited period of time so that only their creator(s) may benefit from them.
Works that may be copyrighted include:
The owner of a copyright has the exclusive right to:
Things that are not copyrightable include:
The duration of copyright protection is important because once it ends, the work enters the Public Domain and becomes freely available.
Unfortunately, copyright duration is not always easy to determine.
Some online resources you may find useful:
Library books can be placed on Reserve without any copyright concerns.
NOTE: E-resources are different as they are typically leased (rather than sold) and likely have licensing restrictions that restrict the number of simultaneous users.
If you can find the materials using one of Harvard's subscribed databases, you can link to the materials without having to obtain additional permission. Harvard's subscription gives faculty members the right to use the materials in their classes.
NOTE: With electronic resources, sometimes our license agreement with a vendor will prohibit certain uses (e.g., electronic course packs are OK but not printed course packs). This information is often available in the HOLLIS record for a resource.
FRIDA (Faculty Research and Information Delivery Assistance) can help you determine if a resource is available via a Harvard database.
You can email them at: FRIDA@law.harvard.edu.
Many universities (including Harvard) have requirements -- or strongly encourage -- their faculty and other scholars to make their scholarship available to the public (Open Access). Often the manuscripts are accepted manuscripts that have been peer-reviewed but not yet published in an academic journal. Many universities have digital repositories to store the papers and make them discoverable via Google or Google Scholar.
HOWEVER, there can be some problems using an Open Access version. Although the content may be nearly identical to the final, published version it will not actually be the final, published version.
Some Open Access resources:
The Public Domain refers to content that is NOT protected by copyright law. Either it never was protected or the protection has ended (whether due to the passage of time or failure to comply with a requirement).
For example (not comprehensive):
The doctrine of Fair Use grants a limited right to use materials otherwise protected by copyright. While this can be extremely helpful, it should not be the first thing to consider.
FIRST: Determine if the Library already has access to the resource as part of its collection, either as a hardcopy or through one of the many databases we subscribe to. If so, linking to an e-resource or putting a physical book on Reserve is permitted.
SECOND: If it is not already part of our collection, try to determine if it is likely to be subject to copyright protection. For example, if it was created by the U.S. government or is in the Public Domain, it may be used without restriction. HOWEVER, this may not be easy to figure out.
THIRD: If the work is available from an Open Access source, links to that version are permissible. HOWEVER, it may not be the final, published version, which can cause problems (e.g., there may be some changes in the final version, and proper citation may be difficult as the article will likely be missing the journal's official pagination).
Fair Use allows limited use of an otherwise copyrighted work.
It requires a balancing of 4 Factors:
The relative strength of the 4 Factors changes over time. Transformative uses that use the original work to create something new are currently favored.
Harvard's Office for Scholarly Communication has prepared a very helpful infographic to help explain Fair Use.
First, what are copyright permissions?
Copyright law gives the creators of certain original works a number of exclusive rights relating to that work for a period of time. If someone else wants to use a protected work (e.g., make a copy of it), they must receive permission from the copyright owner and often must compensate the copyright owner.
Copyright permission is needed if the desired work is protected by copyright law. A general line of inquiry is:
NOTE: The Creative Commons logo is two "C's" inside a circle. Follow this link to see examples of the different types of Creative Commons licenses a creator may choose to grant future users of their work.
Try to think creatively. Look at both the desired work and the desired use. Are there any alternatives?
Many copyright permissions can be obtained from the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC). Step-by-step instructions can be found on the Faculty Support Services webpage Copyright for Course Materials. Specifically:
Using the CCC can help expedite the permission process for many works, including books, magazines, journal articles, newsletters, dissertations, etc. Permission fees are paid directly to CCC and CCC will forward them onto the copyright owners.
There are other collective licensing agencies. For music, try:
If you are not able to obtain permission through the Copyright Clearance Center (or similar service), you will need to contact the copyright holder (i.e., the person or entity that currently holds the rights to the material).
Since this may not be a straight-forward process, you should make sure permissions are required.
You should start with the author/creator of the work. There may be a copyright notice that identifies the original copyright owner. Also, the copyright may have been registered at the U.S. Copyright Office.
Requesting permission can be a balancing act. Depending on the intended use, you may want to make a broad request that will give you flexibility. But then the copyright owner may have specific concerns and ask for additional detail and/or require their own limitations or conditions. Finding a "just right" balance can help save time and not unnecessarily restrict you.
Often the amount copyright owners will charge to use their work depends on how it will be used. Important information they will want to know includes:
Dead ends happen. There isn't always an easy answer. Maybe you can't locate or figure out who owns the copyright ("orphans"). Or the owner never responded to your request for permission. Or the compensation they wanted is prohibitive.
NOTE: The above is the Worse-Case-Scenario. Statutory damages and attorney fees are generally only available if the copyright was registered. However, in the case of willful infringements, the statutory damages can jump to $150,000 per work infringed and could also include criminal penalties (e.g., monetary fines and prison).
NOTE ALSO: Statutory damages may be avoided for educators and librarians if they were operating within the scope of their employment and reasonably believed the copies being made were Fair Use.
It's not you!
What once may have been (or sounded like) a clear rule can quickly become murky when applied to new technologies and evolving new uses. If you have an unusual request or are having difficulty with a situation you thought should have an "easy answer," reach out for assistance.
FRIDA (Faculty Research & Information Delivery Assistance) can help you determine if an article is available from one of Harvard's subscription databases and provide you with a link to the article.
Copyright First Responders are librarians located across the Harvard Libraries who have specialized training in copyright law and policy. If they do not have an immediate answer, they will consult with each other and find an answer.
Here's a list of resources you may find helpful, many of them appeared previously in this Guide. To make them easier to find, they are listed again (alphabetically) below.
Contact Historical & Special Collections at firstname.lastname@example.org
Drop-In Reference Visit our online Office Hours
Meet with Us Schedule an online consult with a Librarian
Hours Library Hours
Text Ask a Librarian, 617-702-2728