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Using and copying copyrighted works in research involves many copyright-related issues. Any time your research or writing activities involve making, distributing, or publicly displaying or performing a work, or involve making a new work that is derivative from an existing one, your activities are overlapping with the exclusive rights that copyright owners control. You may still be permitted to do these things but a smart scholar will be aware of their own rights and responsibilities under copyright

Copying Unpublished Works

Sometimes people think that unpublished works don't have any copyright. But that's incorrect! A work that has never been published, or was not published at the time of its creation, may well have a copyright. And in fact, fair use may apply more narrowly to the use of unpublished materials.

Historians and biographers are familiar with common situations concerning quoting or reproducing portions of unpublished manuscripts, letters, and diaries in a new work intended for publication. Courts continue to look to the four factors of fair use regarding unpublished works.

Copying Published Works

Researchers most often want to copy copyrighted works for private study, or to incorporate a work, or portion of a work, into a new work, e.g. a dissertation, an article for publication, or a derivative work based on another person's work. There are at least two exceptions to an owner's exclusive rights that allow researchers to use copyrighted works without permission from the copyright owner.

Fair use is the first of these exceptions and probably most well known. The second exception applies to libraries and gives them to ability to reproduce some portions of works for their users. Section 108 (Title 17 U.S.C.) in copyright law makes it possible for libraries to support research by providing copies of some of the materials in their collections.

Licensed Resources

Libraries frequently make agreements with publishers and database aggregators to license access to electronic full-texts of academic journals and other resources for their campus communities. These licenses can limit how materials may be used as well as how they are made accessible to you. You can almost always make copies of these materials for your own use, but making copies of these materials (or from these materials) for others is less clearly covered by the license. The terms of a license control your use even when those terms limit some use that is otherwise permitted by copyright law. Ask a librarian for more information about how you can use library licensed resources.

Getting Permission

When you're not certain that statutory exceptions apply to your specific situation you should either get permission, or seek the advice of counsel if you want to proceed with a proposed use. Libraries staff members are happy to consult about copyright issues - we can primarily provide information about how the law works, or common approaches to situations. We can't give legal advice. Individuals affiliated with the University can seek legal advice from the Office of General Counsel, especially for issues that implicate the University's own interests. Individuals who are not affiiated with the University should seek legal advice from their own attorney(s).


Creating Derivative Works

A derivative work is a work based upon one or more preexisting works. Translations, musical arrangements, dramatizations, fictionalizations, are each examples of derivative works. In short, any other form in which an original work may be recast, transformed, or adapted can be considered a derivative work.. A work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications, which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship, is a "derivative work" (Source: Title 17 U.S.C. Section 101).

Scholars and researchers frequently find themselves working in the realm of derivatives. The nature of the academy presumes that new work will be solidly based in the seminal research that lays the foundation for advancing knowledge and understanding. The right to create derivative works is one of the exclusive rights of copyright owners and any assertion that the creation of a derivative work qualifies as a  fair use would rely heavily on the transformative and productive nature of the purpose of the new work.

A thorough four-factor analysis is essential to an assertion of  fair use regarding derivatives. And, naturally this is an area where ethical concerns for accurate and appropriate attribution also come into play as plagiarism issues arise along side copyright responsibilities.