Copyright Glossary

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academic integrity

Having academic integrity means being ethical, honest and responsible about your work as a student. If you cheat on a test, infringe on someone else’s copyright or make up data in a research report, you are violating the standards of academic integrity. (More important, you are cheating yourself out of an education.)

Academic integrity is the opposite of scholastic dishonesty. The Dallas College Student Code of Conduct defines scholastic dishonesty in more detail (click on “Responsibility” and see item 11 under that heading) and also explains the consequences you may face for violating the code of conduct.

The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers

According to its Web site, ASCAP is a membership association of more than 240,000 U.S. composers, songwriters, lyricists and music publishers. The organization also represents many international music creators. ASCAP licenses the public performance of its members' copyrighted works for use on television and radio, at colleges and universities, and in stores and clubs, among other uses.


Copyleft is a relatively new concept that got started among software developers but is now being used in a variety of fields. To "copyleft" a work, the creator of a copyrighted work usually issues a license allowing others to use, copy, modify or distribute the work under certain conditions, without asking permission. In essence, by copylefting the work, the author gives other people or organizations more freedom to use the work than they would have under copyright law, without putting the work in the public domain and giving up all right to protect it.

Only the copyright holder has the right to declare a work copylefted. Once a work is copylefted, the decision can't be reversed.

Organizations that are dedicated to copyleft issues and/or provide copyleft licenses include the Free Software Foundation and the Open Source Initiative (for software) and Creative Commons (for text, audio, images, video and educational works).

Copyright is a form of protection that United States law (title 17, U.S. Code) gives to the creators of original intellectual works, such as books, music, artwork and films. Copyright law gives copyright owners the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, perform, display or license their work.

Creative work cannot be copyrighted unless it is in a tangible form (such as on paper or video). Works are automatically copyrighted when they are put in tangible form and do not need be registered to be copyrighted.

Copyright laws vary by country. The U.S. Copyright Office says, "There is no such thing as an 'international copyright' that will automatically protect an author's writings throughout the entire world." However, as a result of international agreements, most countries honor each other's citizens' copyrights.

Copyright infringement occurs when a copyrighted work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed or made into a derivative work (a work that is based on but changed somewhat from the original) without the permission of the copyright owner.

Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1998

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) updated U.S. copyright law for the Internet era. One change the act made was to give educational institutions that qualify as Internet service providers (including Dallas College) protection from liability for copyright infringement by students or employees, as long as the institution follows certain rules. That means if you infringe on someone’s copyright while using college computers or related college resources, you will be held responsible - not the college.

Dallas College has designated college legal counsel as its agent to receive claims of copyright infringement and to remove or disable illegal content. (See "College/Instructional Web Pages" in regulation CR of the Dallas College Board Policy Manual for more information.)

For more details, see the U.S. Copyright Office’s summary of the DMCA.

fair use

The "fair use" doctrine, part of U.S. copyright law, allows you to use copyrighted works legally, without permission, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship or research.

To determine whether use of a copyrighted work is a "fair use," you must consider all four of the following factors:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes (Will you make a profit by using the work, or will you be using it for a class assignment?)
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work (Is the work purely factual, or is it a creative work?)
  3. the amount and importance of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole (Will you use a few words or an entire article? A key portion or an insignificant one?)
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work (If you use the work - for example, by posting it on your Web site - would that make people less likely to buy it?)

intellectual property

Intellectual property is anything created by the human mind that has commercial value and can be protected under federal law. U.S. law defines four types of intellectual property:

  • copyright (such as a music composition)
  • patents (such as the design for a new machine)
  • trademarks (such as McDonald's golden arches)
  • trade secrets (such as the formula for Coca-Cola)

Intellectual property must be expressed in a tangible form (for example, on paper or video) to be protected.


A license is a contractual agreement in which a copyright owner (or the owner's authorized agent) gives another person or organization permission to exercise one or more of the exclusive rights they hold as the copyright owner. Licenses usually involve the payment of a fee or royalty but can also be free.


A patent is an agreement in which the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office gives an inventor the right to exclude others from making, using or selling an invention for a limited period of time (usually 20 years). Patents may be issued for a new process or machine, a new design for a product or a new variety of plant, among other things.


Plagiarism is the unacknowledged use of someone else’s words or ideas.

The Dallas College Board Policy Manual defines plagiarism as "the appropriating, buying, receiving as a gift or obtaining by any means another's work and the unacknowledged submission or incorporation of it in one's own written work."

To avoid plagiarism, be sure to document your sources properly. 

public domain

Public domain refers to works that are not protected by copyright and are publicly available. They may be used by anyone, anywhere, anytime without permission, license or royalty payment. A work may enter the public domain because the term of copyright protection has expired, the work is not eligible to be copyrighted or the work was created by the federal government.


A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of these things, that a company uses to identify its products.

Want to suggest another term that should be defined on this page? Please send your recommendation to April Ellis, web managing editor.