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Copyright: Introduction

A guide for students, faculty and staff on copyright related to campus activities.

UW System & Copyright

The most up-to-date and relevant information on copyright for our campus comes from the UW System General Council.

More Information

For a more in-depth exploration of copyright issues, please consult the following sites:

Copyright Basics

Copyright Law is very complex.  This guide exists to educate UWSP students, faculty and staff about the basics of copyright on campus.  This guide is intended as a summary for informational purposes, and is not intended as legal advice.

So, what is copyright? 

Since 1989, copyright has been "automatic" or accorded to any work once it is fixed in a tangible medium.  This means that copyright is the rule, rather than the exception.  Copyright grants the owner the exclusive right to do (and authorize others to do) the following:

  • Reproduce the work
  • Prepare derivatives based on the work
  • Distribute copies of the work
  • Perform or display the work publicly. 

It is illegal for anyone other than the copyright holder to take these actions.

Copyright Exemptions

It is illegal to violate the rights provided by copyright law.  However, there are a few important exemptions to copyright.  These exemptions stipulate situations where you may be able to copy or reproduce the work without permission from the copyright holder.

Fair use:  This is arguably the most important exception.  It encourages socially beneficial uses of copyrighted works for teaching, learning and scholarship. 

  • Unfortunately, the definition of "fair use" is not concrete.  It is determined on a case-by-case basis in accordance with Section 107 (Chapter 1) of the United States Copyright Law.
  • A helpful resource in determining fair use the the Fair Use Checklist created for Columbia University by Kenneth D. Crews.

Public Domain: Some works are considered to be in the public domain. 

  • This includes items for which the copyright has expired, works of the U.S government produced by government employees and things like facts, non-creative works or catchphrases.
  • Because copyright law has been changed and extended many times, it can be difficult to ascertain if a work is protected by copyright.  While not a legally definitive solution, this Copyright Slider can be helpful in making determinations.

Other exepmtions, like first sale and reproductions for libraries, allow libraries to lend books, hold book sales, provide interlibrary loan services and make photocopies for libraries users.

Penalties for Copyright Infringement

Summary of Civil and Criminal Penalties for Violation of Federal Copyright Laws

Copyright infringement is the act of exercising, without permission or legal authority, one or more of the exclusive rights granted to the copyright owner under section 106 of the Copyright Act (Title 17 of the United States Code). These rights include the right to reproduce or distribute a copyrighted work. In the file-sharing context, downloading or uploading substantial parts of a copyrighted work without authority constitutes an infringement.

Penalties for copyright infringement include civil and criminal penalties. In general, anyone found liable for civil copyright infringement may be ordered to pay either actual damages or "statutory" damages affixed at not less than $750 and not more than $30,000 per work infringed. For "willful" infringement, a court may award up to $150,000 per work infringed. A court can, in its discretion, also access costs and attorneys' fees. For details, see Title 17, United States Code, Sections 504, 505.

Willful copyright infringement can also result in criminal penalties, including imprisonment of up to five years and fines of up to $250,000 per offense. For more information, please see the website of the U.S. Copyright Office at

Copyright Officer

Mindy King
Library Director


Many basic copyright questions are covered in the United States Copyright Office's Frequently Asked Questions.

Questions pertinent to the UW System community are answered at the UW System General Council.