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Copyright: Copyright Related Topics

This guide provides information (not legal advice) to support NWC community decision-making in the use of copyright protected material in research, learning, and teaching.

Purpose of Guide and Disclaimer

This guide intends to refer NWC community users to accurate information. However, information received from the NWC Library or the NWC Copyright Librarian is neither legal advice/opinion nor legal counsel to the college or any members of the NWC community. Please contact the NWC Office of General Counsel or NWC Staff Judge Advocate's Office for NWC-related legal advice and interpretation of the law, or personal counsel for personal legal advice. The appearance of hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by NWC of sites or the information, products, or services contained therein, nor does NWC exercise editorial control over the information found at these locations. Such links are provided consistent with the stated purpose of this guide. U.S. copyright law is subject to change.

Other Topics Related to Copyright

Copyright and Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Libraries and AI

Here are some basic best practices to keep in mind with this emerging and rapidly evolving technology:

  • Read the individual platform's terms and conditions first.
    • These terms are a contract and will permit or prohibit what you can do with your outputs (and determines who owns the input, your personal data, etc.).
  • Only input works you own.
  • Avoid giving information about yourself.
  • Fact check information you generate.
    • Remember, you don't know generative AI's sources and any citations may be fake.
    • AI generated chat outputs may seem humanized, but you are not having a human interaction.
  • Keep in mind, there may be legal issues.
    • Outputs may include portions of or full copyright protected works.
    • There are several pending legal cases revolving around this issue.
    • The U.S. Copyright Office intends to weigh in on the copyright issues raised by AI systems (both generative and non-generative) and their training.

Even when copyright law permits your use of a work, it may be illegal to circumvent an access-control technology to make that use.

17 U.S.C. § 1201 prohibits the circumvention of any technological measure that “effectively controls access” to a work that is protected under U.S. copyright law. For instance, it is generally illegal under this provision to circumvent the Content Scramble System that restricts access to in-copyright works on some DVDs. This is known as the anti-circumvention provision of section 1201. Section 1201 also prohibits trafficking in tools that circumvent effective access controls or circumvent controls that protect “a right of the copyright holder under this title.” That is known as the anti-trafficking provision. Examples of circumventing include encryption on a CD or DVD, password protection on a website, or technology "locking" a device.

Every three years, the Library of Congress and the U.S. Copyright Office create exemptions to the anti-circumvention provision. In its 2021 Triennial Rulemaking Proceeding, the Librarian of Congress upheld an exemption to the DMCA anti-circumvention rule that granted for the circumvention of limited types of technological protection measures placed on DVDs, Blu-ray discs, and digital transmissions of motion picture clips. This exemption permits college or university faculty and students to circumvent technological protection measures in order to make short portions of a motion picture for purposes of criticism, comment, teaching, or scholarship. 

For more information, please consult the following resources:

Sometimes contract law will prevent you from making uses that copyright law would permit. Be aware that you could be limiting your options when you agree to contract terms. Contracts may limit your ability to use items you accessed subject to an end user license agreement or a service’s terms of use, such as software or media files.

Please read "Think You ‘Own’ What You ‘Buy’ on the Internet?" (Courtney, 2015) for a look at how "copyright law and contract law in the digital consumer space" intersect and the "renting" of e-media.

Contracts may also limit your ability to use items that your institution or your employer has licensed for your use, such as electronic resources paid for by a research library. It may also limit your ability to use items that you accessed under an agreement governing the use of archival or special collections materials.

The Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act of 2020 established the Copyright Claims Board (CCB), a three-member tribunal located in the Copyright Office that provides a streamlined voluntary alternative to federal court to resolve copyright disputes involving claims up to $30,000. Under the CASE Act, the CCB may hear three types of claims: (1) claims of infringement of a copyright, (2) claims seeking declarations that specific activities do not infringe copyright, and (3) claims of “misrepresentations” in notices sent under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

  • For more details, please see Chapter 15: Copyright Small Claims
  • Note: Claims or counterclaims by or against a Federal or State governmental entity are not subject to determination by the CCB. If any NWC employee receives a CCB claim, they should bring it to the attention of NWC General Counsel. 

If you are served with an “initial notice” from a claimant notifying you that you are a respondent in a CCB proceeding, you will have sixty days to make an important decision: whether to participate or to opt out of the proceeding. You may opt out at any time during these sixty days and do not have to provide any reason for your decision. If you opt out, the CCB will dismiss the claim against you, but the claimant can still bring the same claim in federal court.

For more details, please see the following:

To track CCB cases, please visit the CCB Case Docket Search site.

Even when copyright law permits your use of a work, it is illegal to remove or alter copyright management information without the authority of the copyright holder or the law, “knowing, or . . . having reasonable grounds to know, that it will induce, enable, facilitate, or conceal an infringement of any right under this title.” The same section of the law, 17 U.S.C. § 1202, outlaws providing false copyright management information and distributing, importing for distribution, or public performing works knowing their copyright management information has been falsified or removed.

The law defines “copyright management information” as:

"any of the following information conveyed in connection with copies or phonorecords of a work or performances or displays of a work, including in digital form, except that such term does not include any personally identifying information about a user of a work or of a copy, phonorecord, performance, or display of a work:

  1. The title and other information identifying the work, including the information set forth on a notice of copyright.
  2. The name of, and other identifying information about, the author of a work.
  3. The name of, and other identifying information about, the copyright owner of the work, including the information set forth in a notice of copyright.
  4. With the exception of public performances of works by radio and television broadcast stations, the name of, and other identifying information about, a performer whose performance is fixed in a work other than an audiovisual work.
  5. With the exception of public performances of works by radio and television broadcast stations, in the case of an audiovisual work, the name of, and other identifying information about, a writer, performer, or director who is credited in the audiovisual work.
  6. Terms and conditions for use of the work.
  7. Identifying numbers or symbols referring to such information or links to such information.
  8. Such other information as the Register of Copyrights may prescribe by regulation, except that the Register of Copyrights may not require the provision of any information concerning the user of a copyrighted work."

Copyright infringement and plagiarism are related but distinct concepts. Plagiarism is using the work of another without attribution. Copyright infringement is the reproduction, modification, distribution, public performance, or public display of a copyrighted work without the permission of the rightsholder that does not fall under fair use or another exception to copyright law. It is possible to plagiarize even when copyright allows you to use the work. Similarly, it is possible to infringe copyright even when you have given careful attribution.

Oftentimes, copying and sharing materials implicates privacy law in addition to or instead of copyright. For example, research in many fields (e.g., medicine, sociology, education, and public policy) may include information about individuals that is protected by federal or state privacy law. Even when privacy law does not prohibit sharing certain materials, doing so may still violate ethical norms in your field or commitments you have made to research subjects. As a result, it is important to learn about privacy law and to follow the best practices of your discipline.

Another example would be if a federal employee photographs a person and posts the photograph on an agency's website, the photograph itself is not protected by copyright, but the person appearing in the photograph may have privacy and/or publicity rights recognized by some states'  laws. Before using or redistributing a photograph appearing on an agency's website, members of the public should seek appropriate permission from the photographed person. Members of the public are responsible for determining how their use of a work may be restricted by privacy or publicity rights. 

For more information about privacy law in the United States, please see the article on privacy in Wex, an online legal dictionary and encyclopedia hosted by Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute.