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Copyright Essentials

Although the entire Copyright Essentials guide has information intended to help students, faculty, and staff at NMSU, this tab addresses some specific questions that have either been asked by those at NMSU or that are common higher education copyright questions. If you have a question that isn't addressed here, please feel free to contact us at

These questions/answers assume that you have read or are familiar with the information found in the Introduction tab.

I am using someone else's model in my dissertation. Do I have to get permission to do this or is it fair use?

We recommend that you conduct a four-factor test of your specific use, but keep in mind that your dissertation is a publication that will be made available by ProQuest/UMI--a vendor responsible for the Dissertation Abstracts database and one that also sells dissertations and provides royalty payments to authors. ProQuest/UMI states that they will hold authors responsible for securing all appropriate permissions. Their guide, Copyright and Your Dissertation or Thesis, provides examples of the types of materials for which they generally expect you to obtain permission before using in your dissertation. If you have reviewed the general information but would like more specific guidance, contact ProQuest/UMI:

Should I register my thesis or dissertation with the U.S. Copyright Office?

It depends. Remember that copyright law protects an original work automatically as soon as it is fixed it in a tangible form (saved to a file, printed, etc.). Because of this, you enjoy copyright protection without any need for formalities such as copyright registration.

Copyright registration can be advantageous in some cases. If you think it is likely that others may infringe on your work and you wish to have the right to sue for damages, it is a good idea to register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office. If your work is registered, it is much more difficult for someone else to make a claim that they were not able to determine that the work was copyrighted.

My friends and I rent and watch movies together. Why would you need permission for something like that?

You may not need permission, depending on the circumstances. A private showing between friends and family members would generally not require any special permission. In addition, copyright law permits showing movies in a face-to-face classroom setting when the audience is limited to the students registered for that class.

On the other hand, if you are showing movies in a public place or are holding a public screening (for example, for a student group or club), you will need to ask permission or pay for public performance rights. The right "to perform a work publicly" is one of the exclusive rights that copyright law grants copyright holders. It does not matter if you charge admission or not.

Please note that NMSU expects that any individual or group sponsoring a public performance will either obtain the performance rights or the written approval of the copyright holder. NMSU Library films are generally not purchased with performance rights.

For information on how to obtain performance rights, see the excellent guide from Williams College listed below.

What is the difference between copyright and plagiarism?

Both issues involve using someone else's work, but they are actually quite different.

Plagiarism involves using someone else's words, images, ideas, etc. without giving them credit. Plagiarism is not illegal, though it is taken very seriously by educational institutions, including NMSU, and the academic penalties may be severe. See the NMSU Library's guide, Plagiarism: What it is and how to avoid it for more information.

Copyright involves using someone else's work without permission and without a specific legal exemption such as fair use. Although it is a good idea to give credit to the copyright holder, that alone will not protect you from an infringement complaint. Copyright is a part of federal law and anyone found guilty of copyright infringement may be subject to legal penalties. In addition, NMSU students, faculty, and staff may also be subject to University disciplinary action.

In sum, plagiarizing another's work is unethical; violating a creator's copyright is illegal.

I like to make films and I have posted some online. I have incorporated other sources like background music, but I feel that the overall film is my own work. It looks like everyone else on YouTube is doing this too. 

This is a good question...and a complicated area of the law.

Sites such as YouTube include many examples of video compilations or mashups that incorporate copyrighted work. When considering whether these are infringements or works that are protected by fair use, it is a good idea to apply a fair use analysis. Are you using copyrighted materials to create a work of commentary or criticism? Are you creating a parody? These are examples of uses that are protected as a fair use under copyright law. If you are posting someone else's movies or videos without adding anything, this is much more likely to be considered an infringement. For a thorough and thoughtful discussion of copyright, fair use, and online video, we recommend the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video that is available through the Center for Social Media at American University:

You are correct that there are many videos with copyrighted material posted on sites such as YouTube. And, of course these online video sites frequently receive infringement complaints from copyright holders. YouTube's policies with regards to infringement allegations are available on their site and typically involve removing the material and notifying the account-holder of the complaint. YouTube also has a procedure for  filing a counter-notification if you want to make a case that your use was not a infringement. See for more information.

We are creating a custom textbook for our entry level course. We want to use a critical thinking model introduced in Facione, P. A., & Gittens, C. A. (2016). Think critically. Boston: Pearson. We would only be using the basic framework for this methodology and aren’t copying it straight from the source. And we will create our own image of the model. We will reference the original, of course. Would we need to request permission to use?

You wouldn’t need to request permission because you aren’t making a copy and you are creating your own graphic to display the methodology. Your referencing the original work where the methodology can be found is enough.


There are several very instructive videos on youtube which I would like to (partly) show in class and/or share with students on Canvas because they could review and repeat important physics concepts. Here is a link to an example:
Can I show this in class? Do I need to pay public performance rights? Can I add the link to Canvas so that students can watch it?

You can show YouTube videos in face-to-face classes. These types of "public performances" in non-profit, educational settings is an exception to copyright law found in 17 USC 110 (1) and applies as long as the movie was lawfully made/obtained. In other words, you show your own DVD in class, it's a DVD that you bought, or you show one from the library, which was also lawfully made and obtained. Just don't use a copy that you recorded from television or one that you copied from another DVD. That wouldn't be a "lawfully obtained or made" DVD.  17 USC 110 (1) only applies in "face-to-face classroom" settings. YouTube videos fall under that provision. And you don't need to pay public performance rights. As for posting the link in Canvas, that’s ok too, as you are linking to the YouTube video, and not copying the video into your course. Here's a helpful and straightforward article about copyright and teaching with videos. 


I was emailed by a person requesting a pdf copy of an article that I recently co-authored. I'd imagine the requestor's institution doesn't have a subscription to the journal. Does it violate any copyright or other regulations for me to send a copy of the article to an individual?

I found the article freely available on the National Institutes of Health website but it may not be the final edited version—it’s the author manuscript version. So if your requestor is happy with that link, send it on. You can send your final edited article to the requestor from the journal if your copyright agreement with the journal's publisher specifies personal sharing. It all has to do with your contract. And, if your contract specifies that the journal publisher retains all copyrights then, in the general, official sense, yes, it would be a violation of copyright to send the requestor the pdf. Pragmatically speaking, who would know (or care) if you sent it to one person? But as I’ve already noted, you may have retained some rights and, it looks as though this was publicly funded research so it would fall under the OIT publicly funded mandate of mandatory public access. Which is why it is freely available from NIH.

Nevertheless, it's best to check your agreement with the journal publisher. You and your co-author may have retained some rights.