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Copyright is designed to give authors an incentive to create original works by affording them a limited-term monopoly on their intellectual creations.
Copyright may also be best understood as a suite of five rights:
The right to reproduce your work
the right to distribute your work
The right to display your work
The right to perform your work
These extensions to copyright are in conflict with the scholarly communication system. Instead of incentivising creativity, the requirement of many publishers that faculty transfer all of their rights to the publisher can hamper the wide spread sharing of new knowledge. Policy 535 ensures that through a nonexclusive license granted to the university, your work will be shared with colleagues around the world both rapidly and effectively.
A work is in the public domain if:
It is no longer under copyright (e.g. the term has expired, it has not been properly renewed)
It does not meet the requirements for copyright protection (ideas, procedures, methods, etc.)
The author elected to put the work into the public domain (many works with the Creative Commons license fall into this category)
It is a work of the United States government (may exclude the work of independent contractors)
Once a work falls into the public domain, it is no longer copyrightable and anyone may use public domain works without the permission of the copyright holder, who is no longer entitled to the exclusive rights of a copyright holder. These works can be excellent choices for use in teaching and research because there are no permissions required for their use.
Ascertaining whether or not a specific work has fallen into the public domain can be difficult, however. The only general rules of thumb are that works published prior to 1923 and unpublished works created before 1890 are have fallen into the public domain. (See information on copyright term.) Works for which you cannot ascertain or contact a copyright holder are called “orphan works” and are not currently available for use. The Google Books settlement is attempting to create a registry, which should allow the public to access orphaned works through the Google Books search platform. Sources for public domain material and research on the public domain:
NOTE: It is important to be aware of the distinction between materials in the public domain and materials that are open access. Items in the public domain are free from copyright restrictions whereas open access content is available online without access restrictions. Open access material may still be (and probably is) under copyright. The Library maintains a list of Open Access resources that may be useful for linking from your course materials.