Last Updated: Jan 25, 2017     Views: 95

Since January of 1978, Public Law 94-553 has, under its various interpretations, governed the use of protected materials. This applies to both print and multimedia materials. The law, and the guidelines set in response to it, are subtle and easily subject to misinterpretation. The library provides the following guidelines to help patrons understand what legally can be done.

All TCU students and faculty should be familiar with current campus policies regarding copyright and plagiarism.


Copyright laws exist to encourage the creation of new works by protecting the rights of an author of an original work for a specific period of time. Since 1976, Public Law 94-553 has, under its various interpretations, governed the use of protected materials (books, journal articles, scores, audio recordings, video recordings, etc.). This means that one must have permission before using copyright protected materials. This would include copying/reproducing protected materials or incorporating protected materials into a new work.

If you wish to use a protected work, you must contact the author or the publisher for permission. The copyright owner may ask for a fee to use the protected work. They may also place limits on your use of the work by specifying a time period for your use of the work or the number of copies you may create.

The fair use doctrine is an exemption to copyright laws that allows one to use portions of a protected work without seeking permission. There are four factors that are used to determine if a use is fair:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work

Not all works are protected by copyright. Facts and ideas are not covered by copyright; only their specific expression is protected. Typically, works published in the US after 1978 revert to the public domain seventy years after the authors death. All works published in the US before 1923 are in the public domain.

Sometimes an author will relinquish all rights to a work and place it in the public domain. An author may also relinquish some or most of the rights to a work by claiming a Creative Commons license, a Copyleft license, or other form of licensing.

For more information, please read Circular 21, Reproduction of Copyright Works by Educators and Librarians (LC3.4/2:21) issued by the Library of Congress and the Official Fair Use Guidelines. Please consult the reference desk for availability. To learn more about how copyright effects TCU students and faculty, visit the the library's copyright FAQs outlining guidelines for reserves materials and media materials.

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