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Free-to-use resources

When should I use a freely-available (public domain or Creative Commons) resource?

University staff and students benefit daily from the exemptions under the Copyright Act that allow copying for educational, research and study activities. However there are times when those provisions don't apply.

For example, you may be:

  • writing a blog;
  • finalising a book for publication;
  • pulling together a commercial proposal;
  • compiling a report as part of your consultancy;
  • creating or updating a MOOC.

In each of these circumstances there are no exemptions under the Copyright Act should you want to include any text, image, music or video that has been created by someone else (a third party). This means that you would need to:

  1. create your own material to use instead;
  2. find and use a freely-available resource; or
  3. obtain permission from the copyright owner to use the item.

What are freely available items?

In this context, freely-available items means materials for which the copyright has expired (public domain materials), or material that the copyright holder has made available for re-use (Creative Commons licensed materials).

That an item is available on the internet does not mean that it is free for anyone to copy and use. You should always start with the assumption that any third-party image or video (or other material) is subject to copyright, unless it is stated otherwise or you can establish that it is in the public domain.

Which items are subject to copyright?

The vast majority of items are subject to copyright. This includes most online book and journal content available in the library.

Can I link to resources available online?

Yes, but there are a couple of caveats:

  1. Make sure that you are not linking to websites or materials which themselves infringe copyright (e.g. contain pirated works; or blogs which reproduce information without permission).
  2. You should always link to the third-party website's homepage, or to a subpage which is clearly identifiable as part of a third-party website. Linking to subpages which are not clearly identifiable as belonging to a third party, or directly to documents available on the website (also known as 'deep linking'), can be problematic. While deep linking is not a breach of copyright, it has the risk of resulting in claims that you are engaging in misleading conduct or are passing off the third party's material as your own material.
  3. Keep in mind that most of the library's electronic resources are subscription-based and cannot be linked to. Access to subscription-based resources is restricted by authenticated login to staff and students of the university.

But I thought that university staff and students had special rights to use copyright and licenced materials?

The Copyright Act includes a number of provisions that allow copyright material to be used for teaching (e.g. the educational statutory licence, and sections 200AB and 28). If the purpose for which you want to use the materials falls outside of the special provisions for educational organisations then you are not covered by the Copyright Act.