Copyright quick guide

What is copyright?

Copyright protects the owner of an original work of authorship against unauthorized use of his/her work. In a newspaper, this includes news stories, opinion pieces, photos, ads, cartoons and graphics. Generally, it’s OK for a paper to quote short passages from a copyrighted story in another publication, as long as proper attribution is given. The general guideline is that the passage quoted should not be more than 10 percent of the total work.

Copyright does not protect titles, short phrases, slogans, ideas or procedures. It also doesn’t protect facts. For instance, if the Chicago Tribune reports that President Bush has signed a welfare reform bill, and you know that to be true, you can write “President Bush signed a welfare reform bill Monday,” without attributing that information to anyone. But, if the Tribune quotes Bush and you want to use that quote, you have to attribute it: “This will help all Americans,” Bush told the Chicago Tribune.

How can I use copyrighted material?

  1. Consent: getting written permission from the copyright holder. When in doubt, do this.
    2. Fair use: The Copyright Act gives four factors to determine what can be used without the
    copyright holder’s permission.
    a) The purpose: Are you making a profit off the material you’re using? If so, you’ll be
    held to closer scrutiny.
    b) The nature of the copyrighted work. Some works are closer than others to the core
    of what the law was intended to protect. A unique work of fiction, for example, will
    receive greater protection than a news story that is covered by many reporters.
    c) How much of the work, in relation to the whole, that you’re using. Again, 10
    percent has been the general rule for what’s allowable (remember to attribute it).
    d) The effect of the use on the potential market for the copyright holder. Did your use
    of the material make it harder for him/her to sell the original? If so, it probably
    wasn’t fair use.

What about cartoons?
Sometimes, cartoonists use images from popular cartoons in their own cartoons. Example: A Star cartoonist depicts the South Park kids joking about an NIU issue. This qualifies as fair use if it passes two essential tests for cartoon parodies:

  1. You can’t use more of an original work than is necessary to evoke thoughts of
    the original in the viewer’s mind. An exact duplicate puts you in risky territory for
    copyright violation.
    Your work can’t directly affect the market value of the original work. No one
    should be willing to buy the parody as a substitute for the original work.

What about the Web?

Everything on the Web should be considered copyrighted, whether it says so or not. Never use text or images from the Web without getting permission first.