General Copyright Rules for the Content of Web Pages:

  • Any original content is fine.  If you create a graphic from scratch, write text from your own imagination, or create an original audio or video recording, you can put these on your Web page without worrying about copyright.  However, you may want to ensure copyright protection on your original material.
  • Any work in the "public domain" is not protected by copyright.  The trick is knowing what is in the public domain.
     
    • The copyright has expired (author's death plus 50 years).
    • The original holder of the copyright has given up the copyright.
    • The federal government created the work.
    Remember that these are not hard and fast rules.  If you are in doubt as to whether material is in the public domain, ask for permission to use the material.
  • In the educational community the law is more lenient in regards to the Fair Use exception to copyright protection.  The basic guidelines for fair use are:
     
    • The use of the material is not for commercial reasons.
    • Copying factual material is usually more permissible than copying creative works.
    • The amount copied cannot be a substantial portion of the work as a whole.
    • It cannot be used if using the material will have an adverse impact on the market value of the work.
    Again, there is a large gray area in the fair use doctrine.  If you're not sure, ask permission.
  • There is certain information that is not copyrightable.  Facts, words, phrases or titles cannot be copyrighted.  This would be the case with a link on a page.  The link by itself is not protected by copyright (just like an address of a person).  But, if someone compiled a page of links in an organized and meaningful way, then it could be protected by copyright (like a directory of law firms in the Midwest).
  • You can always have links to websites.  The only time there could be a problem with having a link on your page is if you imply a relationship with or an endorsement of the site you are linking to (this is really only if there is some kind of commercial aspect involved).

General Copyright Rules for the Design of Web Pages

    The selection of information on a page, coordination and arrangement of a Web page are protected by copyright in the same way the content of the page is protected.  The same guidelines stated above apply to the design in the form of the HTML code.  In order to use the HTML code from a page you admire, you must save the source code to a disk or to your hard drive.  The act of copying the code can put you in violation of copyright unless you can prove fair use.  The best guideline for using HTML source code from other Web pages is not to copy large portions of the design or very original use of HTML code.

For more information, consult "Online Law," Thomas J. Smedinghoff , Editor, in the SCC Library in the Reference area, REF KF 390.5 .C6 O55 1996.