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First Year Writing Instructor's Library Guide

This guide is for First Year Writing Instructors teaching ENGL 1005A/B, 1010, 1050, 2030, and 3010

Copyright Law Basics

Public Domain

Works are considered to be in the 'public domain' when they:

  • Were published more than 75 years ago or created more than 120 years ago. So, if in 2020 you are considering using a novel published in 1925, it is in the public domain and is available for public use without copyright restrictions. This is why the Internet Archive has not had any backlash for archiving eBooks like Moby Dick, but the archive has had issues with the Author's Guild for including contemporary fiction eBooks still protected by copyright.
  • While it is no longer the case, copyright holders used to have to apply to renew the copyright of their work. If they did not renew a license, it may have expired and it is likely in the public domain. How do you know? If you see a copyright expiration and no indication it was renewed, it is in public domain.
  • Creators can choose to waive their copyright through use of Creative Commons licenses (see OER box below).

Fair Use

Fair use (17 U.S.C. §107) acts as a counterbalance, enabling limited use of copyrighted material without the permission of the copyright owner. It is a law that enables researchers, educators, journalists, and critics (e.g., parody skits on SNL) to use copyrighted material without copyright infringement. If there are lawsuits arising from fair use disagreements, the following will be considered:

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a 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; and

(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Read more about Fair Use in Chapter 10 of the "Copyright Law for Librarians and Educators eBook" below.


eBook on Copyright (Recommended)

Open Educational Resources (OER)

Open Educational Resources (OER) are educational resources such as textbooks, lesson plans, and videos that authors create with open licenses. Many OERs are free for you to use, which also means if you select an OER textbook, your students do not have to pay for access to required readings! Many OERs also use Creative Commons licenses that allow you to reuse, embed, and even adapt the materials for your own teaching.

This guide was created by Paizha Stoothoff, Humanities Librarian, with a CC-BY-NC license. This means anyone can reuse content with attribution and for non-commercial purposes. To read more about CC licenses, visit Creative Commons.

John F. Kennedy Memorial Library
California State University, Los Angeles
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Los Angeles, CA 90032-8300