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Using Copyrighted Works

Occasions often arise when faculty, students, and others wish to use the copyrighted works of others. This may be done with the best intentions to draw recognition to another’s work; however, the copyright of the author must be respected. This page will help determine how copyrighted work can be used respectfully and legally; how to seek permission to use a copyrighted work; using a work in the classroom; and an explanation of the public domain.

Using copyrighted works in the classroom

Can I use a work (image, movie, music, etc.) in the classroom?

Face-to-face teaching allows for some flexibility concerning copying, displaying, and distributing copyrighted materials in the classroom, covered by the Classroom Use Exemption. You may display or perform a work in your class without obtaining permission or doing a fair use evaluation when your use meets all three of these criteria:
The use is:

  1. for instructional purposes;
  2. in a face-to-face setting (in the classroom, not over the Internet); and
  3. at a nonprofit educational institution.

Typical uses allowed include:

  • showing all or part of a movie or television show
  • including pictures, images, graphs, and charts in your lecture slides
  • playing music

Can I make copies and distribute in class?

The Classroom Use Exemption does NOT cover making or distributing copies. However, sharing a link to library provided or publicly available resources is not a copyright violation. When sharing links with students, be aware of linking to obviously infringing material. If the original creator did not authorize sharing this work you could be encouraging others to infringe copyrights.   

While spontaneous use of handouts in a classroom setting is allowed by the Classroom Use Exemption, using the same handouts consistently and in lieu of other materials that students could purchase/rent is not covered by the exemption and may be a violation of copyright.

How do I link to copyrighted works (journal articles, ebooks, etc.)?

Linking to resources subscribed to by the library is the preferred option for instructors. Anyone affiliated with UNM will have access, and anyone not affiliated will not be allowed to access the resource. Creating links that work consistently can be a little challenging, but staff members in UNM Libraries are happy to assist UNM instructors. We also provide step-by-step instructions if you want to do it yourself. 

What if a student created the work?

Students hold the copyright to the academic works they create, such as their papers, projects, theses, and dissertations. If the work is publicly available you can link to it. Otherwise, contact the student for permission to use their work. 

Using copyrighted works in a public setting

How do I get permission to reproduce or disseminate someone else's copyrighted work?

Find the copyright owner, describe your project, and ask for permission. There are no special forms that must be used, and permission can be oral or written (email or other), though it is good practice to obtain permission in writing. The copyright owner may or may not charge a fee, and the user may try to negotiate this fee. Most major publishers and periodicals have a "permissions desk" or a "rights editor” for initial contact. You should specify the publication you wish to take from; the precise excerpt(s) you want to use; how many copies you want to make; and the purpose of your use. Many permissions desks accept requests by email or through the publisher's website.

You can make as many copies as you like, without advance permission, from certain academic and scholarly journals now enrolled with the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC), a private clearing house. After you copy, you remit the prescribed per-copy fee to the CCC. If a publication is enrolled with the CCC, its masthead will usually provide the necessary information. (The CCC rules for course packs may differ; check with them for current information.)

Can I show a movie outside of the classroom?

Public Performance Rights (PPR) are the legal rights to publicly show a film or video (media). The media producer or distributor typically manages these rights and may include PPR in the purchase price. Occasionally, the rights-holder may assign PPR using a separate Public Performance License.

The Federal Copyright Act requires PPR for public viewing of copyrighted media outside of the regular curriculum, regardless of whether there is an admission fee.  Examples include:

  • film festivals
  • meetings, programs, and events on campus
  • movie nights sponsored by student or other groups

Individuals and organizations are responsible for obtaining performance rights for publicly screened media.

Can I perform music on campus or for campus events?

The University negotiates licenses with the major music performance rights organizations (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC) for the licensed performance of music on campus and for campus events. In general, these licenses allow for the non-dramatic performance of musical works from music in the ASCAP, BMI and SESAC catalogs on the UNM campus and within UNM buildings. Dramatic works include musical theater, opera, ballet and stage plays. The licenses differ in their licensing of broadcast and intranet/internet transmissions of works from their catalogs. These licenses do not cover the public performance of motion pictures. Contact the Office of University Counsel for more information about these licenses. 

Works not protected by copyright

What is Public Domain?

The term “public domain” refers to creative materials that are not protected by intellectual property laws such as copyright, trademark, or patent laws. The public owns these works, not an individual author or artist. Anyone can use a public domain work without obtaining permission, but no one can ever own it.

There are four common ways that works arrive in the public domain:

  • the copyright has expired
  • the copyright owner failed to follow copyright renewal rules
  • the copyright owner deliberately places it in the public domain, known as “dedication,” or
  • copyright law does not protect this type of work.

For more information about when works enter the public domain, see Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States

Are government works copyright protected?

Works created by the U.S. government are not eligible for copyright protection under U.S. law.  However, some government documents may contain copyrighted material, so care must be exercised. The same cannot be said for state and local governments who may have their own laws and regulations regarding copyright.