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This guide is designed to create awareness and understanding of copyright issues in the workplace.

History of Copyright

The laws we take for granted today weren’t actually created with the payment or protection of the authors in mind, nor did they intend to encourage the creation of new works. Copyright was primarily designed for censorship, control and strict regulation.

Copyright Early History (7 min)


Welcome to the Ascension Wisconsin Copyright LibGuide!  This guide is designed to create awareness and understanding of copyright issues in the workplace.  We all have the responsibility of making sure we are in compliance with copyright law as we go about our daily work.  Failure to comply may lead to substantial penalties for the organization.  

If you have time, start with viewing the video "Copyright Early History".  You will be surprised to learn of the original intent of Copyright. 

On this LibGuide you can access

  • the Ascension Wisconsin Copyright Policy

  • tutorials on basic copyright

  • information on how to determine if we already have copyright permissions for an item

  • how to determine what type of permission you may need

  • description of Fair Use

  • websites to use for free images, and more.  ...

If you need assistance, please contact your Librarians.

What is copyright?

Copyright was created to protect the rights of authors and creators of original works, such as works of a literary, dramatic, musical, or artistic form. It also includes text and images from Web sites and journal article abstracts. Copyright is supported by the laws of the United States (U.S. Code Title 17 and the 1976 Copyright Act).

The laws say those holding ownership of works have the exclusive right to permit others:

  • To reproduce the work
  • To prepare derivatives based on the work
  • To distribute copies of the work by sale, lease, or lending
  • To publicly perform or display the work

It is illegal for anyone to violate these rights without the permission of the copyright holder.

Companies are held liable for the actions of their employees. Please refer to the MHC Copyright Policy.

What is protected by copyright?

Since January 1, 1978 anything set into a fixed format such as articles, photos, drawings, audio or video recordings, paintings and other artwork, graphic art designs, web design, web pages, PowerPoint presentations and books are protected under copyright law. Once anything is written, published, or recorded, it is automatically copyrighted.  No copyright symbol or notice is required.  

Copyright protects:

  • Materials found on Google Images, YouTube, and other online sources such as websites, blogs, etc. 
  • Published material such as journals, books and newspapers
  • Forms, tool kits, and assessments
  • Images and photographs
  • Cartoons and drawings
  • Graphs, tables, figures, and charts
  • Movies and videos
  • Music
  • Computer programs and software

Copyright does NOT protect: 

  • Materials produced by the U.S. government but some images and videos (i.e. those produced by A.D.A.M.) are protected by copyright
  • Ideas and facts but the creative expression of an idea or fact that is fixed in print, audio, video, art, or other medium is protected by copyright  
  • Titles, names, some short phrases
  • Materials that are in public domain.  These materials may have been placed in the public domain by the author or they may have moved into the public domain due to the age of the material (generally if created prior to 1923).

What are the fines for copyright violation?

Fines for copyright are determined by the courts on a case by case basis, and are not less than $750 or more than $30,000 per violation. The court may increase the award of statutory damages to a sum of not more than $150,000 per violation.



Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17) Chapter 5





1. If written materials don’t have a copyright mark on them, then they are not copyrighted, and I can use them without asking permission or paying a copyright fee? 

Answer: No – just because you don’t find a copyright mark on something doesn’t mean it hasn’t been copyrighted. 17 U.S. Code § 107. It is best to assume everything is copyrighted. A copyright lasts for the life of the author PLUS 70 years. This is true for written works that are published or unpublished. Note: there are different lengths of time for other types of materials such as recordings, movies, plays, software programs etc. 


2. Can I email a PDF copy of a journal article to another person? (whether it is a friend, associate, student etc.) 

Answer: No, not without getting permission. The best thing to do is email a copy of the URL to the person. Unless the document is “in the public domain.” This means that the materials aren’t protected by copyright laws. An example of documents in the public domain or U.S. Government documents. None of them have copyrights so they can be freely copied and shared. 


3. Can I make TWO or more copies of articles (not in the public domain) and distribute them to others. Or email copies of an article to two or more people? 

Answer: No, not unless you compensate the author or publisher for the use of the materials. (Generally, through fees) Why? A section in 17 U.S.C. § 107 states if you make multiple copies you are essentially stealing from the author. Because, every time someone buys a copy of the article, this journal or a subscription the author is compensated in some manner for their work. Would you want to be compensated for your hard work in writing/publishing an article? Absolutely. 


4. But the article copies I want to use are for a lecture I am giving to a group of doctors, nurses, residents or students. Does that change anything? 

Answer: Not in a hospital or clinical setting. You are still working at an institution that makes money and therefore, you can’t consider yourself a true non-profit like United Way or Salvation Army. 17 U.S.Code § 107. 


5. What if an article is in the “public domain” meaning it doesn’t have a copyright on it. Can I make copies then? This can happen because the author/publisher chose not to get one OR because it is too old, and the copyright has expired. 

Answer: Yes, you can make as many copies and distribute them to everyone freely without paying a fee. 


6. Can I use a copyrighted image without paying a fee? 

Answer: First, what is a copyrighted image? Intellectual Property images include: two and three-dimensional images such as photographs, pictures, illustrations, cartoons, designs, drawings, maps, charts, globes etc. You must ask the author’s permission to use his or her work and then credit them for the material if they have provided permission. (You may or may not have to pay a fee) Remember you can’t change their work, you must use that piece exactly as they have created it. 17 U.S. Code §107 

7. Can I copy and share a chapter of a print book or ebook? 

Answer: It depends. How many chapters are there in the book? You can basically make a copy of 10% or less of a book/ebook. If there are three chapters in the book, then the answer is probably no. You would be copying too much of the whole work. If the book has 27 chapters then the answer is probably yes. However, if the chapter you want to copy is over 1/3 of the book, then the answer is still probably no. The reason is that you can’t copy that much of the book. 107 U.S. Code §107. 


8. May the Librarian make a copy of an article or other written material for me? 

Answer: Yes. Under 17 U.S. Code §108(a) the Librarian can make ONE copy of an article or small portion of a book/ebook (10% or less) or other materials for an individual. They may not make multiple copies of materials and distribute them out under this same law. That is against copyright law because it is taking money out of the hands of the writer and/or publisher. 


9. But I want multiple copies of materials to pass out at a meeting, conference or to fellow associates. It is for educational purposes. Doesn’t that make it ok? 

Answer: No. Neither you or anyone else can make multiple copies. Unless you work at a true educational institution, like a college, university or other equivalent location you can’t use the educational rationale for breaking the law. You work at a hospital/clinic, the primary purpose of the business is not educational, so you can’t make multiple copies of materials and pass them out in print or electronic format. 

Tips For Using Copyrighted Materials at Ascension Wisconsin

When in doubt about sharing an article, use a permalink.  [See #3 below.]

Under the Fair Use Clause of the Copyright law, libraries are allowed to provide a single copy of an article for your own personal use. Since Ascension Wisconsin Health Care is not considered an educational institution (even if your purposes are for continuing education), we do not get the same consideration as a university or a school for copyright purposes.

If you want to use an article for a class, meeting, committee/policy work., it's up to YOU to get copyright permission and or pay any royalties required.   Sometimes this is easy--the authors and publishers want to have the info spread as far and wide as possible, so they sometimes grant permission without payment. Sometimes they will require royalties for each copy made and distributed which can be quite costly at times ...

Other options for providing the information without copyright infringement might be the following:

1) Provide a citation of the article--as with a reference or bibliography list. Then only those people who are most interested can follow-up in the library to get the full article individually.

2) Copy the first page of the article only.  This usually gives enough info for library staff to track down a copy of the full article, and it gives more of a full-bodied flavor for the article than just a brief citation. But it doesn't give away so much that the copyright holders would be distressed, or losing income.

3) If it is something to which we have online access, you could also provide a link to the full-text.     

  • Yes: Providing a link to full-text is not considered the same as providing a photocopy--even though an individual may print a copy themselves.  Most data bases or publishers provide a persistent url to the article.  If you are unsure of how to do this, contact us and we can help you.  
  • No: Forwarding a PDF of copyrighted material to a group of people is in direct violation of copyright laws and guidelines unless permission is noted or our licensing allows for this.   

4) Materials such as the skill sheets, Evidence-based care sheets, etc.  taken from the Nursing Reference Center Plus may be copied, distributed, and adapted per our licensing agreement.  Full text journal articles may be copied and distributed within Ascension Health Care but permission is required to use of any tables, forms, assessments, tools etc. that are found within a journal article.   

5) Full Text articles accessed through ClinicalKey data base may be duplicated and distributed within Ascension Wisconsin.  Permission is required to use of any tables, forms, assessments, tools etc. that are found within a journal article.   Our license does allow us to copy and use images from Clinical Key's Image Collection for use within Ascension Wisconsin.  

6) Full text articles accessed through the following databases and/or publishers may be duplicated and distributed within Ascension Wisconsin.  Permission is required to use any tables, forms, assessments, tools etc. that are found within a journal article.

  • OVID Medline or LWW eJournals
  • BadgerLink (EBSCO)
  • NEJM and JAMA
  • Natural Medicines (May only print out copies of patient education materials that will be used within a 24 hour period)
  • CINAHL-FullText


This guide is not intended to be legal advice. It is designed to provide general information about copyright to be considered while researching and teaching in the health care field.

Contact Your Librarian : MM

Need Assistance? We are happy to help! Please contact Your Librarian :


Michele Matucheski, MLIS, AHIP
Medical Librarian
(920) 223-0340

Note: Working from home during the Pandemic.  Email is the best option to reach me now.


Contact Your Librarian : KS

Need Assistance? We are happy to help! Please contact Your Librarian :


Kellee Selden, MLIS, MSMI
Manager Learning and Knowledge Management
Medical Librarian
(414) 585-1626


Special THANKS to Deb Knippel, Library & Information Consultant, for developing this LibGuide for Ministry Health Care.   As of August 2016, Deb is no longer with Ministry Health Care, but she has her own NEW Copyright LibGuide with Marshfield Clinic.

Many thanks to April M. Hathcock, Scholarly Communications Librarian, New York University Libraries and Georgia Harper, University of Texas Libraries for sharing their Copyright Crash Course LibGuide Content.  

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