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[Adapted with permission from Austin Community College and Indiana University.]

Using copyrighted material without the author's consent is a violation of the law.

What is Copyright?

CCS Board of Trustess copyright policy (7.50.20) and administrative procedure.

Copyright is part of U.S. (Title 17, U.S. Code) and international law granting rights and protection to authors and developers of creative works. Among the rights granted are the right to:

  • reproduce the work

  • prepare derivative works based on the work

  • distribute copies of the work to the public

  • perform the work publicly

  • display the copyrighted work publicly

  • perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission, and

  • assign these rights to others.

Copyright only protects works that are "fixed in a tangible form of expression." It does not protect ideas or processes (although processes can be patented). Using copyrighted material without the author's consent is a violation of the law. Exceptions to this include works that have passed into the public domain (over 70-years-old) and works used in the manner prescribed under the Fair Use part of the copyright law.

For additional information, review the U.S. Copyright Office's FAQs

Fair Use

The concept of Fair Use refers to section 107 of the copyright law. It lays out in very broad terms the conditions under which it is permissible to use copyright-protected materials without getting permission from the author or creator of the work. The following is an excerpt from the copyright law.

[Fair] use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use, the factors to be considered shall include

  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

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

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

Moreover, there is a part of the copyright law -- section 504(c)(2) -- that protects people working in a nonprofit educational institution who have “reasonable grounds for believing that his or her use of the copyrighted work was a fair use under section 107.” To qualify, you need to be sure you have carefully considered the four criteria for fair use listed above. When considering using copyright-protected materials, make sure you have taken all four into consideration. It is recommended you read more about the four criteria and make sure you understand them.

Penalties for Copyright Infringement

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 the permission of the copyright holder constitutes 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 assess 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

For more information, contact your college/unit copyright compliance officer: