This resource was prepared by the Business Communications Lab at the Sam M. Walton College of Business
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Copyright provides the legal protection for exclusive right of authors and inventors to their own intellectual property (writings and discoveries).

Only the copyright holder has the exclusive rights to copy or display his or her work. Unauthorized copying or other use constitutes infringement, and those who infringe can be sued by the owner of the copyright for damages determined by the court. If you infringe upon someone’s copyright protection, whether it is innocent or willful infringement, you can be sued in a federal court of law.

What exactly is infringement?
Infringement is the word used to describe intellectual thievery. Copyright infringement occurs when someone or some institution uses a copyrighted work without permission from the copyright holder. Citing a copyrighted work or including a disclaimer that the work is copyrighted is NOT the same as getting written permission.
What materials can be copyrighted?
  • Literary works (fiction, nonfiction, creative nonfiction)
  • Musical works, including lyrics
  • Dramatic works, including accompanying music
  • Pantomime and choreographic works
  • Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural work (artwork, clip art, scripts, fonts, etc.)
  • Motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • Sound recordings
  • Architectural works
  • Computer programs
  • Sewing patterns
  • Fabric design
  • Instruction manuals
  • Policy and Procedure manuals
  • Websites
What is fair use?

The exceptions to copyright law grant a certain amount of fair use for purposes such as criticism, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. In 1961, the Report of the Register of Copyrights on the General Revision of the U.S. Copyright Law gave the following examples of fair usage:

  • Quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment.
  • Quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work for illustration or clarification of the author’s observations.
  • Use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied.
  • Summarization of an address or article, with brief quotations, in a news report.
  • Reproduction by a library of a portion of a work to replace part of a damaged copy.
  • Reproduction by a teacher or student of a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson.
  • Reproduction of a work in legislative or judicial proceedings or reports.
  • Incidental and fortuitous reproduction, in a newsreel or broadcast, of a work located in the scene of an event being reported.

Even though fair usage has been addressed through copyright laws, the person holding the copyright can still dispute your usage, and the dispute may need to be resolved in court. It is always best, especially if you are practicing outside the university, to ask for written permission to use a copyrighted or trademarked property. You gain permission by contacting the holder of the copyright.

What determines fair use?
Under title 17, U.S. Code, courts consider four factors when determining fair use:

  1. Status of User: Is the purpose and character of the use related to profit or is it related to a nonprofit organization? Courts are more lenient with nonprofit use.
  2. Public Protection: Does the nature and purpose of the use provide protection to the public? If the nature and purpose is to provide information that is essential to the public, as in medical information, the courts are more lenient.
  3. Amount and Impact: Is the amount used relative to the size of the document? The larger the work, the more words you could expect to use. Have you used a large amount of the work, and how does your usage impact the copyright holder?
  4. Monetary Gain: Does the use infringe upon the potential market for the copyrighted work? Does your usage violate the profits of the holder?
How can I make sure I'm following copyright laws?
  • Follow the fair use laws described above.
  • Get written permission to use copyrighted material from the copyright holder.
  • Cite your sources correctly.
  • Footnote the copyrighted or trademarked item and associate it with its holder.
  • Consult an attorney who specializes in copyright law.
What are trademark and registered trademark?
While copyright protects intellectual property, trademark and registered trademark protect the name or logo of a product or company. A trademark is a word, phrase, name, or symbol that is owned by a company. The trademark symbol ™ follows the word, phrase, name, or symbol that is trademarked. Example: Google™.

A registered trademark is the symbol that recognizes that the name, phrase, logo, or symbol has been registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. When a company has registered its name, phrase, logo, or symbol, it is given much more legal protection inside and outside of the United States than if it is simply trademarked. Kleenex® is registered, so the registered trademark symbol should always accompany its name.

How can I make sure I'm following trademark laws?
  • Use boldface, italics, or a different typeface to distinguish the trademarked item. Examples: Google™, Kleenex®
  • Use the trademark or registered trademark symbol at least once in each document (the first time) and include a footnote that states the name, symbol, logo, or phrase that is a registered trademark of a particular company.
  • Never change the trademarked name or phrase to a plural or possessive. Example: instead of “Kleenex’s® quality,” write “Kleenex® tissue’s quality.”
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