Amherst College adheres to and promotes observance of U.S. copyright laws. Those laws aim to “promote the Progress of Science and useful arts” (Constitution of the United States, Art. I, Sec. 8) and protect the rights of authors, artists, composers, copyright holders, and those who use material produced by others.
What follows are brief, general principles to help members of the Amherst College community follow current U.S. copyright laws. Please be aware that the information on this page is intended to be educational, but is not intended to constitute legal advice. For legal advice regarding a specific intended use, you should always contact an attorney.
You may use work in the public domain, without seeking permission, so long as your use is not defamatory or in violation of other laws unrelated to copyright.
Everything published before 1924, with or without a copyright notice.
All work published without a copyright notice between 1924 and 1977.
Unpublished work created before 1978 enters the public domain 70 years after the creator’s death.
Facts, statistics, and compilations thereof published at any time.
Everything published by the U.S. government at any time.
To use copyrighted material you must do one of the following:
Work published with a copyright notice, 1924-1978: © until 95 years after publication.
Unpublished work created before 1978: © for 70 years after death of the creator.
Work created (published or not) after 1978: © until 95 years after the death of the author.
You may use material under copyright if you determine through informed good faith that your use constitutes “Fair Use.” “Fair Use” guidelines (17 U.S.C. § 107) require you to consider the following four factors:
Amount: Few legal analysts question using limited portions of certain materials as part of “mediated instruction” or “classroom use”: a poem, a song, a slide of contemporary art, a movie, or a scene from a play, provided the instructor obtains the material legally and uses it in a face-to-face setting or on a course website.
Restrictions: You can reduce (but not eliminate) your liability by restricting copyrighted material to students enrolled in your courses and by providing said students with notice of their rights and responsibilities. Restricting access does not in itself ensure Fair Use.
Responsibility: Faculty and students are responsible when they infringe copyright law. The college, however, reserves the right to intervene when it suspects violations, and the college will honor takedown requests from those alleging violations during the period required to evaluate the validity of such claims.
Jailbreaking: The U.S. Copyright Office acknowledges that “jailbreaking” protected media may be warranted if the use of that media constitutes Fair Use. See proposed rule.
Some approaches to particular cases appear below.
Movies for classes: Most analysts agree that it is permissible to show entire films in the course of teaching at nonprofit, educational institutions, even if those films are labeled “Home Use Only.” You should be safe if:
Movies for the public: You will almost certainly exceed Fair Use if you show a film under copyright in a setting that is not part of a teaching activity. This includes showings by clubs and non-teaching screenings open to the public. You should obtain permission from the copyright holder in all such cases.
Coursepacks: Case law around printed coursepacks is unsettled, and courts have ruled against creators of coursepacks in several well-publicized cases. Debates about the applicability of those rulings to other cases persist. An excellent discussion of the issues and risks in play may be found at the University of Texas.
Electronic course readings:
Safe use of electronic items:
What is unsettled and subject to conflicting interpretations of Fair Use:
Open Access publishers: You may also choose to publish with an open access press. Lists of reputable publishers may be found in the Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB) and the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ).
Please do not hesitate to call or write with questions.
Susan Kimball, Head of Access Services: x2663; sjkimball[at]amherst.edu
Martin Garnar, Director of the Library: x2212; mgarnar[at]amherst.edu
Rightsholders should direct electronic inquiries and complaints about possible copyright infringements to:
Paper inquiries and complaints should be directed to:
Director of IT Analysis, Planning & Budget
Rm B-15 Converse Hall
Amherst, MA 01002-5000