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Copyright FAQ

This page provides general information about U.S. Copyright Law and how it affects the work of faculty, staff, and students at FSU. The questions addressed here are based on actual questions received by FSU Libraries, and the answers have been reviewed and approved by FSU's Office of the General Counsel.


For basic information about copyright law, please see the following guides and FAQs:


1.   Teaching

1.   Are there restrictions on showing films in a physical setting?

Under the "Educational Exemption" (Section 110(1)), copyrighted entertainment films may be shown in a school without copyright permission provided that all of the following criteria are met:

  • A teacher or instructor is present
  • The showing takes place in a classroom setting with only the enrolled students attending
  • The film is used as an essential part of the core, required curriculum being taught. (The instructor should be able to show how the use of the motion picture contributes to the overall required course study and syllabus.)
  • The film being used is a legitimate copy, not taped from a legitimate copy or taped from TV


2.   Can a film that’s not available in digital format be digitized and posted to a course Canvas site?

Generally, a film that is not available in digital format cannot be digitized and posted to a course Canvas site without permission from the copyright owners. Although the Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization (TEACH) Act of 2002 permits instructors to use certain copyrighted materials during online instruction without permission, the TEACH Act also includes several rigorous limitations that are difficult to comply with in practice, particularly for films. For more information about TEACH Act provisions and requirements, see this summary from the Office of Distance Learning.

FSU Libraries subscribes to two collections of streaming films that can be used for instructional purposes: Kanopy and Films on Demand. In cases where a film is not available in these streaming collections, instructors should contact their subject librarian for assistance with determining if a digital streaming copy is available for institutional purchase.

3.   Is it permissible to post PDFs of articles on course Canvas sites?

In order to ensure copyright compliance, it’s recommended that instructors use FSU Libraries’ Course Reserves service to make supplementary readings available on Canvas. If the Libraries’ have electronic access to an article, a link to the journal article rather than the PDF will be posted to Canvas. In cases where an article is only available through the Libraries in print form, Course Reserves will scan it, attach a copyright notice, and upload it to the course Canvas site for the time period in which it’s needed. In some cases, Course Reserves can obtain copyright permission for the use of articles from journals not available through the Libraries.

4.   Can an article obtained through InterLibrary Loan be scanned and posted on a course Canvas site?

Scanning and posting an article obtained through FSU Libraries’ InterLibrary Loan service may fall under Fair Use. If the article will be used for a current class only and is available in a professional journal that is out of print or otherwise difficult to obtain, then this helps support the case for Fair Use. On the other hand, if reprints are easily available for purchase, posting an interlibrary loan article to Canvas could be problematic. Instructors are strongly encouraged to use FSU Libraries’ Course Reserve service to make supplementary readings available on Canvas, as this allows the Libraries to take responsibility for ensuring copyright compliance.

5.   Is it permissible to scan book chapters and post them on course Canvas sites?

In order to ensure copyright compliance, it’s recommended that instructors use FSU Libraries’ Course Reserve service to make supplementary readings available on Canvas. In some cases, digitization of a book chapter may fall under Fair Use. If copyright permission is needed, Course Reserves will strive to obtain that permission on the instructor’s behalf.

2.   Theses and Dissertations

1.   Is it necessary to obtain copyright permission to use images, figures, charts or graphs from publications in a dissertation or thesis? What about images from the Web?

To determine whether you need to obtain copyright permission to include an image in your dissertation or thesis, follow these steps:

  1. Determine the copyright status of the material. Who created the material, and when was it published (if at all)? Who currently owns the copyright for the material? This information will help you determine whether or not the material has passed into the public domain. If the material is in the public domain, you are free to use it however you wish, without permission. (But remember to cite your sources!)
  2. Check if the material is covered by a Creative Commons (CC) license. CC licenses provide advance permission for reuse subject to minor conditions, so CC-licensed materials can be used in dissertations or theses without permission in the vast majority of cases. Harvard Library maintains an excellent guide to finding CC-licensed materials.
  3. Determine whether use of the material falls under Fair Use - a provision of U.S. Copyright Law that permits use of copyrighted materials without permission under certain circumstances. For instance, if a copyrighted image is used as the subject of sustained criticism or commentary, rather than for aesthetic or illustrative purposes, the use will likely qualify as fair. Use the Fair Use Checklist to evaluate the fairness of your intended use, and keep copies of completed checklists as evidence of your due diligence. Additional best practices for using copyrighted materials under Fair Use are outlined in FAQ 2.2. If you have questions about whether Fair Use applies to a specific use-case, contact Camille Thomas, Scholarly Communications Librarian.
  4. If you determine that your use does not fall under Fair Use, seek permission from the copyright owner. Detailed information on seeking permission, including templates of permission request letters, is available in Columbia University’s guide to Asking for Permission. Seeking permission is especially important if you anticipate publishing portions of your dissertation or thesis in academic journals or books, as many academic publishers require authors to obtain permission for any third-party copyrighted works included in their publications.
  5. If you determine that your use does not fall under Fair Use and you are unable to obtain permission, see FAQ 2.8.


2.   What best practices should I follow when incorporating copyrighted material in my dissertation or thesis under Fair Use?

If, after working through the steps outlined in FAQ 2.1, you determine that your use of a copyright work falls under Fair Use, consider the following:

  1. Use the Fair Use Checklist to assess each copyrighted work you wish to include under Fair Use. Keep copies of completed checklists to document your Fair Use assessments.
  2. Review the Codes of Best Practices available on the Center for Media & Social Impact website. These codes contain detailed best practices for exercising Fair Use in different disciplines and for different kinds of copyrighted works (e.g., Journalism, Media Studies, Communication, Poetry, etc.).
  3. Ensure that any copyrighted materials you incorporate under Fair Use are integral to your argument. If a copyrighted work is the subject of sustained criticism or commentary, such that readers would have difficulty understanding your argument if the work were omitted, then the use is more likely to be fair. However, using a copyright work for aesthetic or illustrative purposes is less likely to qualify as Fair Use.
  4. Incorporate copyrighted materials at the smallest size or resolution necessary to make your scholarly argument. For example, large images may be best or even required to illustrate small background elements or obscure details, but in other instances, smaller reference images may suffice.
  5. Provide attributions to the copyright owners of the copyrighted materials (and any works depicted in the images), where known. Although not legally required under fair use, attributions may help demonstrate a user’s good faith in adhering to the broader scholarly traditions of providing citations when using others’ works (which traditions are especially strong in the context of publications).


3.   Is it necessary to obtain copyright permission to use clips or stills from films in a dissertation or thesis?

Although it is not strictly necessary to obtain copyright permission for clips and stills for films used in a dissertation, it is a best practice. In general, short pieces of a work are covered under fair use as long as they are used for educational purposes or news reporting, are used with significant commentary or criticism and the reuse is not reasonably expected to harm the market value of the original work. For detailed guidance on incorporating clips or stills from films in a dissertation or thesis, see the Society for Cinema and Media Studies’ Statement of Fair Use Best Practices for Media Studies Publishing.

4.   Is it necessary to obtain copyright permission to use excerpts of recorded or printed music in a dissertation or thesis?

When using examples of printed music not in the public domain, obtaining copyright permission is recommended. Determining if a recording is in the public domain can be problematic; again, the prudent course is to obtain permission if at all possible. For detailed information on seeking permission for excerpts of recorded or printed music, see FSU Libraries’ research guide on Copyright clearance for Music Theses, Treatises, and Dissertations.

If after due diligence, one is unable to secure permissions, use of copyrighted material may fall under the doctrine of fair use. If making an argument for fair use, one must do a thorough fair use analysis to determine if the use falls within those guidelines (see FAQ 2.2). Including an attribution to the source and copyright owner is strongly recommended.

5.   What strategies can I use to identify copyright owners?

Published works often have clear copyright statements which name the copyright owner at the time of publication. Copyright holders can be individuals, multiple people, or even large organizations. Look for notices that include “copyright,” “copr.”, or symbols like ©. Creative Commons notices can also contain information on rights holders.

Not all works will have a clear copyright statement; this is often true of material that is not yet published or was never intended for publication. In cases where copyright is not clear, it is useful to identify the author of a work. The author, whether an individual or an organization, is often the original copyright holder and/or an important clue as to the current copyright holder. Authors of published works are often clearly and prominently identified. Other works may contain clues to their authorship: initials, logos, addresses, etc. Even distinctive elements of style can provide clues to authorship. For works that are part of a library or archives collection, clues to authorship may lie elsewhere in the collection or with library or archives staff.

There are many ways for copyright to change hands. Upon the death or dissolution of a copyright owner, copyright does not expire, but rather will pass to an heir or successor organization. Resources such as Family Search or published obituaries can help identify next-of-kin for individual copyright owners. Search engines or a visit with a librarian can help find information on defunct organizations.

Copyright can be transferred through a legal contract. This is common when a work is created on behalf of an organization or by commission. Works created during the normal course of employment are often considered “works for hire” and copyright is owned by the employer rather than the creator, sometimes without a formal contract.

6.   How do I locate/contact a copyright owner?

Copyright owners for works with commercial value often make themselves (or their agents) easy to find. A simple online search may return contact information.

Contact information for professional creators and their agents is aggregated by many resources, including:


Libraries and archives that collect the works of individuals or organizations can have contact information for relevant copyright holders. Even if the work you are using is not from such a collection, the information may apply to your copyright search. Try searching for “[Name of Creator] Papers” or “[Name of Creator] Collection” in a search engine or in these online resources:


7.   What if I can’t identify or locate the copyright owner?

Be sure that each search option that presents itself is reasonably evaluated, pursued if necessary, and documented. A documented history of the search for a copyright holder will establish that a good-faith effort was made, and minimize any potential repercussions. List each step taken and source consulted. Date and record the results for each. If a search step involves correspondence, keep copies of all messages written and replies received.

If, after due diligence, the current copyright holder cannot be determined or contacted, you may wish to re-evaluate your use of the work under Fair Use. Lack of an obvious rightsholder sometimes correlates strongly with a lack of a market for the work and/or lack of a mechanism for licensing the material, each of which will enhance a Fair Use argument.

8.   What if I can’t get permission? (Or the owner asks for an unreasonable permission fee?)

If you cannot obtain or afford permission for use, consider modifying your use of the work. Would using less of the original work, or featuring it less centrally, contributed to a stronger Fair Use argument? Can the work be referenced without reproducing it at all?

If you can neither obtain permission nor modify your use of the work, you may choose to omit the material from the version of your dissertation or thesis that you submit to ProQuest and/or DigiNole, replacing it with a notice that the material has been omitted due to copyright restrictions, along with a citation and/or hyperlink to enable readers to access the material if needed.

9.   Is it possible to get a digitized copy of an FSU dissertation that is only available in print?

FSU dissertations and theses completed since Fall 2002 are available in DigiNole, FSU’s Research Repository, but dissertations and theses completed prior to Fall 2002 are generally not available in digital form. If you cannot find a specific title in DigiNole, please search for it in the FSU Libraries’ catalog. If you find the title in the catalog, you may submit a request for the item through Interlibrary Loan at your local library, or by contacting FSU Libraries Special Collections & Archives directly at Please note that, if you are not the author of the dissertation or thesis in question, Special Collections & Archives will only be able to provide you with a limited portion of the work. Alternatively, you may be able to obtain a full print copy of the dissertation (for a cost) from ProQuest Dissertation Publishing.

3.   Publishing

1.   Should I try to negotiate my publication agreements with publishers?

Traditionally, academic publishers have required authors to transfer the copyright in their work as a condition of publication. The publisher then becomes the exclusive owner of the work, which is then sold back to the research community through journal subscriptions paid for by academic libraries. By retaining their copyrights at the beginning of this process, authors have the power to rectify this situation and enable the broader and more equitable dissemination of scholarship.

Agreeing to publish in a journal doesn't have to be an all or nothing contract, and there are several strategies that authors can use to negotiate more favorable terms. After consulting with a librarian or intellectual property expert, attaching an approved "copyright addendum" to your publication contract offers the publisher the rights they need to publish your work while ensuring that you retain the right to share and reuse your own work.

FSU authors are encouraged to use the FSU Copyright Transfer Addendum, which has been approved by the Offices of Research and General Counsel for use in publication contract negotiations. Authors interested in using the FSU Addendum should review these step-by-step instructions. The Libraries' Academic Publishing research guide includes a wealth of further information and resources on retaining your author rights.


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