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11-Copyright Basics

Respecting Copyright

While working with other people’s copyrighted works, remember that their works are under copyright protection from the moment of creation.

Additionally, U.S. Copyright Law applies to works found on the Internet. Many of the works you find online are protected by copyright, even if there is no copyright notice. The availability of and the ability to access copyrighted materials on the Internet does not mean that those works are in the public domain, and thus free to use, reuse and distribute in any manner you wish. It is important to respect copyright, whether the works are in a physical or digital format.

Risks of Infringing Copyright

If you infringe upon one or more of the exclusive rights, the copyright owner can bring a claim against you for copyright infringement. There are a few different penalties that are possible if you are accused of copyright infringement:

  • Under specific circumstances, U.S. copyright law allows criminal prosecution in cases of willful infringement.
  • If the infringing work is online, such as a video posted to YouTube, the copyright owner can send a takedown notice. The material will be taken down and you will be notified of the accusation of infringement. If you believe that your use of the material is legal, you can respond with your explanation of why. Some Internet Service Providers will cut off your access if you receive too many takedown notices.
  • The copyright owner can sue you. They could ask for an injunction to stop your use of their work. They can also ask for either actual damages or statutory damages. Actual damages are the actual amount of money the copyright owner lost due to your activity plus any profit you made from using the work. These can be hard to determine, so the law also allows for statutory damages. These are a set range, from $750 to $30,000 per infringed work, that the judge or jury awards to the rights holder if you are found guilty. These damages can increase to $150,000 per infringed work if your use is determined to be “willful” infringement.
  • Some rights holders will offer the option of settling out of court for a few thousand dollars. This is cheaper than the cost of a trial for the rights holder and you.

The accusation of infringement is not the same as a conviction. You always have the right to defend your use.


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Respecting Copyright by Teaching & Learning, Ohio State University Libraries is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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