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Common Questions

Q: What is infringement?

A: According to Wikipedia, copyright infringement is the unauthorized or prohibited use of works under copyright, infringing the copyright owner's exclusive rights, such as the right t reproduce or perform the copyrighted work, or to make derivative works. (Wikipedia, available at

While the term "theft" is not strictly applied to the act of infringing the rights of a copyright owner, "piracy" has been applied to copyright infringement since 1557. Piracy refers to any act violating the intellectual property rights of a copyright owner with the goal of financial gain. "[M]ore recently copyright owners have described online copyright infringement, particularly in relation to peer-to-peer file sharing networks, as piracy." (Wikipedia)

Q: How do I get permission to use copyrighted material?

A: Sometimes the easiest way to use copyrighted materials legally is to ask the permission of the copyright owner, who may be the creator of the work, a publisher, or some other entity. Sometimes an industry licensing body acts on behalf of copyright owners to grant permissions. Look for the copyright symbol (C) at the beginning or end of a printed work, or on the title screen of a media production for information about the copyright owner. The library can help you find contact information for the copyright owner. Note that sometimes the copyright owner will ask for a fee for the use of the material, so you have to decide if the benefit of acquiring the legal right to copy the work is worth the cost in money and time to get the authorization. The Columbia University Libraries page on obtaining copyright permissions is an excellent resource for more information about obtaining permissions, including sample permission letters.

Q: Who do I ask questions about copyright law?

A: Before asking for help look over this web site to see if you can find easily the answer to your question. Talk to the librarian at the information desk at Bailey Library, or email with your questions. Be sure to explain clearly what you want to copy and why, and include your name, email address, and a telephone number where you can be reached.

Q: What is Peer-to-Peer file sharing?

A: "Peer-to-Peer file sharing is a form of file sharing using peer-to-peer networking. This concept of file sharing emerged after the widespread adoption of Internet service, and has now become one of the most used file sharing methods, especially for music and films. It relies on sharing files between two computers connected through the Internet" (Wikipedia, available at

Q: I don't want to learn all about copyright law right now - I just want an answer to my question. Isn't there a place I can go to get a "yes-or-no" answer to a question about copyright law?

A: The law does not prescribe many clear rules for copyright compliance--just guidelines. Organizations have put together guidelines that you can follow and which, if followed, will keep you within the law. Such guidelines are called "bright line" policies.

Only one thing is
impossible for God:
To find any sense in
any copyright law
on the planet.
~Mark Twain

Philip Tramdack
Director, Library Services
Copyright Compliance Officer