Copyright Laws, The Internet, and You {Part 2}


In part 1 of our copyright discussion we looked at asset and copyright basics. Today we’ll talk text assets and some challenges in science and math.

Words Words Words

Text assets nearly always require extra research. It’s a pretty safe bet that the original Chaucer or Shakespeare texts are in the public domain. But what about all those modernized English versions of older texts? Probably not. A good portion of my time is spent tracking down who owns the rights, and it’s not always an easy path. Different sources such as authors, family members, foundations, publishers, estates, trusts, and clearance centers may own various rights to texts. Some rights holders may own the right to print versions while others own the electronic or audio rights. Some may own rights for use in the United States while others may own rights in UK, Canada, or in other parts of the world. (And if you think text rights are complicated, don’t even get me started on music rights!)

In several instances we’ve requested permission to use excerpts from a well-known book, journal, or newspaper and were denied. Rights holders might choose to deny permission because they do not allow excerpts to be used. Sometimes permission is denied because rights holders do not want their text to be reproduced electronically. Other times permission is denied with no explanation at all. Be prepared to go with plan B.


Muggs the dog is ours, created by our talented team of designers.

Global Copyrights

We currently write our own texts for Spanish lessons and apps, but I want to touch on translations and global copyright. If we were going to use any third-party Spanish language texts, we would have a number of issues to consider. Just like any other text asset, we would need to request permission. Additionally, if we wanted to translate the text into English, we would need permission for that. Authors and publishers are often reluctant to allow translations of their works. To complicate matters further, if the text is published in another country, we would need to investigate copyright laws of that country. There is no such thing as “international copyright law.” Each country has different copyright laws, fair use rules, and public domain guidelines.


The first place that comes to mind for science images is NASA. While many images posted by NASA are in the public domain, some are not. Learn to look for credits below or adjacent to each image, and read the fine print. For example, images of people could pose a problem. NASA’s Media Use Guidelines state that “if a NASA image includes an identifiable person, using the image for commercial purposes may infringe that person's right of privacy or publicity, and permission should be obtained from the person.”


We use this highly stylized NASA rendition of the earth's solar system and beyond in Unit 1, Lesson 4 of our Algebra 1 Course.


So what about math? If Pythagoras were alive today, would he be disappointed to learn that he could not copyright his theorem a2 + b2 = c2? That’s right, formulas, facts, and ideas cannot be copyrighted. However, certain compilations of data like some of the sets used in our Data Depot might be copyrighted. Check the legal information for each source and then double-check … which leads me to my next point.

The Lesson to Learn

The bottom line when it comes to copyright: When in doubt, ask! "Publically available" does not mean "public domain." An image or text on a website might be (and probably is!) copyrighted in the same way a book or newspaper article would be. If you want to use an asset, request permission and be prepared to wait. Typical response time from publishers can be 2 – 3 months or even longer. Sometimes you’ll receive no response at all! Always have alternates in mind if the rights holder does not respond, if the response is “no,” or if usage fees are more than you are willing to pay. Bottom line: it truly is better to ask permission now than to ask forgiveness later.

Are you interested in using screenshots, video, or other excerpts from SAS Curriculum Pathways? There’s a process for that! Simply complete our Permission to Use Copyrighted Materials Request form. Sometimes we cannot provide you with permission because of licensing restrictions on third-party assets. However, whenever we can, we will. We’d love for you to be a cheerleader for us!


About Author

Trena Brantley

Trena Brantley is the Sr. Media Operations Specialist for SAS® Curriculum Pathways®. Prior to arriving at SAS in 1998, she worked as an educational research and evaluation consultant, copyright permissions specialist / editor, and test development specialist for the North Carolina Testing Program. She loves reading, writing, music, dogs, Doctor Who, kung fu, collecting hard-to-find martial arts films, and being an investigative research nerd.

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