What is the public domain? What is the length of copyright?
Some things are never under copyright. You can't copyright ideas, only their expression. You can't copyright facts, titles, names, short phrases, or slogans, although some are protected through patents or trademarks. There is not copyright on work created by United States federal government employees if that work is created as a direct result of their jobs.
The public domain includes all of the above plus older works where the copyright has expired and anything that's not "in a tangible medium of expression," such as an extemporaneous speech that remains unrecorded.
Figuring out the length of copyright can be tricky and the length of copyright keeps extending. At the moment, it is the life of the author plus 70 years, with exceptions. In those cases, the length of copyright is 95 years from the date of first publication or 120 years from the date of creation, whichever expires first. Copyright renewal can lengthen things further. In the United States, if it's published before 1923, you can safely consider it to be in the public domain.
See Cornell's copyright term and the public domain in the United States.
I want to use an article in my class. How do I figure out "fair use"?
There are four factors to consider individually and then as a whole: purpose, nature, amount, and effect. Please refer to the fair use doctrine which explains the steps to a fair use evaluation.
- U.S. Copyright Office on fair use
- Crash Course in Copyright (University of Texas): a simple, straightforward approach, plus links to multimedia, digital libraries, licensing of electronic resources, and the needs of particular audiences (students, staff, librarians, artists, administrators).
- Copyright Management Center (Indiana University – Purdue University – Indianapolis)
I want to put an article or a book chapter in my D2L course. What about copyright?
The first step is to check library databases to see if the article is accessible electronically. If it is, the library has already paid copyright permissions as part of the licensing of that resource. The license does not give permission to upload the item to D2L, but you are free to give students a link to the article so they can find it themselves.
Cornell University has developed a set of guidelines as to what should and should not be placed in learning management systems. These guidelines are rapidly becoming the standard for these decisions.
- Cornell Electronic Course Content Copyright Guidelines
- Posting Course Materials Online (Columbia University)