Copyright FAQs

Does all of this apply to me?

I have a specific question that isn't addressed here.  Who do I contact?

What are the penalties for copyright infringement?

Why do we have all these guidelines now?

Do I have to follow these guidelines?

How careful do I need to be? Should I just get permission for everything I use?

How can I make sure that my students are following these guidelines?

Does the TEACH Act apply to anything I do in a “normal” classroom?

Where does the copyright law come from? What exactly does it say?

Does a work have to be published to have copyright protection?

How do I know who to ask for permission?

Do I own the copyright for everything I create or publish?

Are copyright infringement and plagiarism the same thing?

Does all of this apply to me? 

If you use – and especially if you make copies of – copyrighted material to which you do not own the copyright, then you should be thinking about the issues addressed on this site.

It is highly unlikely that every part of this site will apply to you – for example, if you don’t use Blackboard or iTunes University, you will probably never need to think about the TEACH Act.

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I have a specific question that isn't addressed here.  Who do I contact?    

Visit the Contacts page on this site, and send an email to the appropriate person(s). We will make every effort to respond to your question in a timely manner.

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What are the penalties for copyright infringement?    

The owner of a copyright may file a civil lawsuit in federal court to protect his or her rights to use the work. Depending on the nature of the infringement, actual or statutory damages may be awarded. The minimum amount of statutory damages that can be awarded for copyright infringement is $750; the maximum is $30,000. If the infringement is “willful," the potential statutory damage award is increased to $150,000 for each infringing act.

If, however, you have reasonable grounds to believe your use qualified as Fair Use, and you used the copyrighted material within the scope of your employment by Pacific University, the statutory award can be waived by the court.

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Why do we have all these guidelines now?

The growing use of online resources is making it easier to use other people’s copyrighted works and many students (and faculty) aren’t sure exactly what they can do, legally or ethically. This site seeks to be a constantly evolving resource to provide guidance and answer questions.

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Do I have to follow these guidelines?

It depends.

The Copyright Usage Guidelines on this site represent a very conservative interpretation of the fair use exemption of the U.S. Copyright Law. It is entirely possible that your use will fall outside of the bounds of the “Safest Usage” described by these guidelines, but will still qualify as fair use. It is up to you to make a reasoned determination.


If you have permission to use a work, these guidelines don’t apply to you at all. They are intended to guide you in determining whether your use is acceptable if you haven’t received permission.

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How careful do I need to be? Should I just get permission for everything I use?

The safest thing that you can do is get permission to use another person’s copyrighted work(s). However, there are many acceptable uses for which you do not need to ask permission. To see if your use qualifies, read the Limitations to Copyright section.

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How can I make sure that my students are following these guidelines?

Contact the Copyright Help Desk. An advisor can meet with you to give you some tips, or can give a presentation in your class.

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Does the TEACH Act apply to anything I do in a “normal” classroom?

No. The TEACH Act only applies to online course activities (e.g. Blackboard, iTunes University, or other online course delivery methods).

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Where does the copyright law come from? What exactly does it say?

For a complete explanation of the U.S. Copyright Law (found in Title 17 of the United States Code), visit http://www.copyright.gov.

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Does a work have to be published to have copyright protection?

No. As soon as a work is “fixed in a tangible medium of expression” it is protected.

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How do I know who to ask for permission?

Look for a copyright notice on the work – it will usually have the © symbol, or say “Copyright”, next to the copyright holder’s name(s).

If there is no copyright notice on the work, visit http://www.copyright.gov for help.

Be careful – the author of a work is not always the copyright holder. Copyrights can be assigned to other people or bodies, such as publishers, corporations, etc.

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Do I own the copyright for everything I create or publish?

For every original work of authorship that you create, you own the copyright. However, if you publish that work, you may be asked to sign some rights over to the publisher. You may also transfer your rights to another person or party if you wish.

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Are copyright infringement and plagiarism the same thing?

No. Plagiarism means that you have not given proper credit for words or ideas taken from another person’s work. Copyright infringement means that you have violated the exclusive rights of the copyright holder to use or reproduce his/her work. Plagiarism is about giving credit for the use of another’s work; copyright is about having the right to use it in the first place.


You should always include a citation when you are using elements – whether words, ideas, images, etc – of another person’s work. However, do not assume that because you have cited it that you also have permission to use it.

Most limited uses of copyrighted material for academic purposes (teaching, writing, etc) are allowed by Fair Use and do not require permission.  It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with what does and does not constitute Fair Use.

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