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Copyright in the University Archives

Federal copyright law (17 U.S.C. sections 101-914) grants certain exclusive rights to creators of original works. Many of the people who use the Archives have two misconceptions:

  • Materials in the Archives are not protected by copyright, or 
  • Because Case Western Reserve University owns the materials, it must own the copyrights 

CWRU's archivists are not lawyers so we are not pretending to give legal advice. Nevertheless, most of our users seem unaware of how copyright applies to use of materials in the Archives. We hope this introduction clarifies what can be a very confusing issue. We are only addressing copyright as it applies to materials in the Archives, not to the universe of information. URLs and references to more general explanations of copyright appear at the end of this document.

Works Eligible for Copyright Protection

The work must be original and fixed in some tangible medium. Tangible media include paper, film, audio and video tape, computer hard drives, CDs, or any other material on which a work could be recorded. Original isn't a synonym for creative or unique, but means the work must be new in the sense of not copied from something else. A photograph taken at an alumni reunion, a letter from a parent to the Dean of Adelbert College, and the University's annual report are all examples of original works eligible for copyright protection. Copyright protects the expression of an idea, not the idea itself. There may, for example, be several photographs of that alumni reunion, that look very similar but were taken by different photographers. Even though not unique, each photograph is a distinct expression and each is eligible for copyright protection. Ideas, names, titles, slogans, short phrases, or facts are not eligible for copyright protection. Some slogans, names, or phrases may, however, be protected by trademark laws. Copyright protection does not last indefinitely. The duration varies depending on when the work was created, who created it, and whether it was published. See Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States for a summary. Works also lose protection, entering the public domain, because registration and notification requirements in place before 1989 were not met, or because owners relinquish their rights. Also in the public domain are works not eligible for protection because, for example, they fail the originality test.

Copyright Owners

Generally the person who created the work, its author, owns the copyright. People who are not authors can also own copyrights. Heirs of deceased authors can inherit copyrights, just like any other personal property. Copyright owners can transfer some or all of their rights in a work to one or more other parties. If the author created the work as an employee acting within the scope of his or her employment, the employer probably owns the copyright. In short, you can't tell by looking at a work, who owns its copyright.

Rights of Owners

Copyright owners have the exclusive right to:

  • Reproduce the work
  • Prepare derivative works
  • Distribute copies of the work
  • Perform or display the work publicly

Fair Use

A number of limitations to the exclusive rights of copyright owners are granted for purposes such as distance learning, preservation by libraries and archives, backup copies of software. Otherwise, if you wish to exercise one of the copyright owners' exclusive rights, you must have the owner's permission, unless your use qualifies as "Fair Use."

There are four factors to consider to determine if your use of copyrighted material qualifies as fair use. The balance of all four, rather than any one, determines fair use. (Working for a university in and of itself does not qualify every use of copyrighted material as fair use.)

Purpose of the Use Purposes supporting claims of fair use are criticism, commentary, parody, newsreporting, personal, educational.
Nature of the Work Used Characteristics of works supporting claims of fair use are factual, scholarly, published. Characteristics of works weakening claims of fair use are fiction, artistic, audiovisual, unpublished.
Amount of the Work Used Supporting claims of fair use are small proportions and non-essential parts of the work. Weakening claims of fair use are large proportions and the essence of the work.
Effect of the Use on the Market for or Value of the Work Used Supporting claims of fair use are out-of-print works, unidentifiable copyright owner. Weakening claims of fair use are copies available for purchase or license.

If you plan to reproduce, distribute, prepare a derivative work, or publicly perform or display a copyrighted work, it is your responsibility to determine if it is a fair use. If it is not, it is your responsibility to identify the copyright owner and secure permission. Below are a few rules of thumb that might help you determine if works in the Archives are protected by copyright and, if so, who is the likely copyright owner.

Rules of Thumb

Below are some broad categories of material in the University Archives and some general guidelines about their copyright status.

Unpublished materials, such as memoranda, letters, reports, photographs, created by Case Western Reserve University employees as part of their job responsibilities are protected for 120 years from the date of creation. That is, on 1/1/2008 copyright to these documents written before 1888 expired. Copyright to those written during or after 1888 is owned by Case Western Reserve University.

Unpublished materials, such as memoranda, letters, reports, photographs created by individuals who were not Case employees are protected for 70 years after the death of the author. That is, on 1/1/2008 copyright to these documents written by people who died before 1938 expired. Copyright to these documents that have not expired are owned by the authors or their heirs or assignees. The fact that Case Western Reserve University owns the documents, does not mean Case owns the copyright.

Copyright to works produced for Case by outside consultants under contract is owned by the consultant unless assigned to Case by the contract. If the work is unpublished and is of corporate authorship (e.g., a consulting firm), it is protected for 120 years from the date of creation. If the work is unpublished and of individual authorship, it is protected for 70 years after the death of the author.

Anonymous unpublished works are protected for 120 years from the date of creation. (Many of the photographs in the Archives are in this category.)

University publications (i.e., those published by Western Reserve University, Case Institute of Technology, and Case Western Reserve University):

  • If published before 1923, are in the public domain.
  • If published between 1923 and 1963 with notice, are in the public domain if copyright was not renewed. If copyright was renewed, the work is protected for 95 years after publication.
  • If published between 1923 and 1977 without a copyright notice, are in the public domain.
  • If published between 1964 and 1977 with a copyright notice, are protected for 95 years after publication.
  • If published between 1978 and 3/1/1989 without a copyright notice, are in the public domain if they were not registered. If the work was subsequently registered and of individual authorship, it is protected for 70 years after the death of the author. If the work is of corporate authorship, it is protected for 95 years from publication,
  • If published after 3/1/1989 and of individual authorship, are protected for 70 years after the death of the author. If the work is of corporate authorship, it is protected for 95 years from publication.  

Resources (retrieved 4/22/2011)

Copyright Management
Center for Intellectual Property. University of Maryland University College

When Works Pass Into the Public Domain
Lolly Gasaway

United States Copyright Office. Library of Congress

Crash Course in Copyright
University of Texas

Copyright Management Center
Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis

Office of General Counsel. The Catholic University of America

Kelvin Smith Library

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questions or comments? please contact archives@case.edu

Collections FAQ

Why isn't the book on the shelf?
Find out where a book is before you go to the shelf. Search the Case Catalog to see what it says like
- "Check Shelves" (look on the shelves, find it, & check it out);
- "Just Checked In" (ask staff for help, it's nearby, but too soon to be back on the shelves yet);
- "Off Campus" (out at an OhioLINK school);
- "Due mm/dd/yyyy" (it’s checked out until that date.) 
Tip: If it is not available, order an OhioLINK copy
Can I return books to a different Library?

Return Case or OhioLINK items to any Case library, yes. Case libraries have different hours, so your book might not get checked in on the day you return it if you use a bookdrop.

Return the CPL@Case-KSL books only to KSL, so the collection is here for you & others. Case libraries are not responsible for returning other local libraries’ books. Returning public library books here will not check them off of your account at those libraries.

What does "Check Shelves" mean?
"Check Shelves" means it is supposed to be on the shelf. If it isn’t there, double-check what the Case Catalog currently says to make sure that nobody else has checked it out or has kept it out too long.
How long does reshelving take?
The times are different, depending on what is being reshelved and what time of semester it is. KSL goal: to reshelve journals within 24 weekday hours, reshelve books within 48 hours. During peak times (end of semester) the time can be longer. Ask staff at the Main Service Desk for help.
How do I reserve a book?
Books are on the shelves for anyone who needs them, and are not reserved for individual use. If our book is checked out, order a copy from the OhioLINK.
Where are the UL Storage Stacks?
KSL has a university center half a mile from KSL, where lesser used or brittle books are kept, and the catalog search screen will display "UL Storage." You can visit the Center during daytime hours, or use an online request form to bring back the item to KSL. The center is now called RRCC (Retrospective Research Collections Center.)
Can I get a book or video on a specific date?
Yes, Case faculty, staff, & students can find out more details and use a convenient online request form for Book a Video or DVD  (KSL’s other collections are available only on a first-come basis for everyone, and cannot be booked ahead of time.)
What does a Book on Order mean? When will it get here?
When the catalog item displays “1 copy ordered for (library name)” the item is already in the library getting the final processing labels, etc., and will soon be on the shelf! Ask staff if there are other copies avaialable in OhioLINK in the meantime, or if you have an urgent need.
What is a PIN?
Your PIN is not assigned, you choose what it is and enter it on the Case Catalog at “View Your Library Record,” following the instructions. A Case Library PIN is a Personal Identification Number that protects your information, just like your bank ATM asks for a similar security PIN.
How do I get a library account & where can I look at it?
Case faculty, staff, and students automatically have online library accounts. You can look at it on the Case Catalog under “View your library record.” Use your library account to renew items on line and keep track of what you have checked out or ordered from OhioLINK or RRCC or Iron Mountain sites. Your Case ID is your library card!

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