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Copyright Law

Copyright law protects the owner of an original work against the unauthorized use of his work by others. The work of student journalists, photographers and artists — just like any other author — is protected from copyright infringement. The most common issue for student media, however, is not so much protecting their work from use by someone else as it is determining whether they can use material produced by others in their publications or programs. For example, is it permissible to reproduce a popular cartoon character or reprint the words of a poem in a student yearbook? Is it okay to download photos from the Internet to illustrate a story in the student newspaper? Can you run clips from a music video on a student-produced television program? Unfortunately, the answers to such questions can be more complicated than a simple "yes" or "no."

  • Student Media Guide to Copyright Law: A comprehensive, user-friendly guide to the ins and outs of copyright law designed especially for student journalists.
  • SPLC Guide to Fair Use: Want to use that image or song? How to do it without getting into legal trouble.
  • Model Copyright Agreement for Student Media: A sample contract and license between a student media staff member and a student media organization drafted by the Student Press Law Center that seeks to fairly balance the intellectual property rights of the student creators of a work (which, for example, includes news stories, photographs, graphic designs, etc.) against the business and practical requirements of student media organizations that publish such work.
  • U.S. Copyright Office: A surprisingly helpful and easy-to-navigate site. Includes forms, fee schedules and other information about the copyright registration process as well as basic information about copyright law generally. The Office's publication, Circular 1: Copyright Basics, is particularly helpful.
  • SPLC Copyright Duration Calculator: Once its copyright expires, a work falls into the public domain and can be used without the need to obtain prior permission. Our unique Copyright Calculator can help you determine whether a particular work's copyright is still valid.
  • OCILLA 101: A brief users guide for student media wishing to protect themselves under the Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act, part of the federal Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), that shields online service providers from liability for certain acts of copyright infringement.
  • Bedford/St. Martin's Plagiarism Resource Page: Often mistakenly lumped together with copyright infringement, plagiarism describes the "academic or professional crime" of taking someone else's work and passing it off as one's own. Included here is a collection of links to various resources about plagiarism as well as some suggestions and an excellent list of "do's" and "don'ts" to share with students.
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