Works that are in the public domain, because their copyright has expired or because the author has relinquished copyright, are often available for free. These works may be easy to find and download, and may be in fairly universal formats. Works that are still under copyright often have rigid protections associated with them. They are available for purchase or subscription, downloadable or on CD-ROM. Many are in a format that can only be used by a proprietary viewer, limiting their usability in a universally designed curriculum.
The Copyright Law of 1976 allows copyrighted materials to be used royalty-free for certain nonprofit educational purposes. According to (17 U.S.C. 107) educators may make copies of copyrighted works for use in teaching if:
- it is used to illustrate the lesson;
- the use is sufficiently unpremeditated that permission could not have been reasonably obtained in advance;
- the use has not been ordered from the teacher's superior; and
- the use does not replace purchase of the material.
It is also permissible to convert materials into other formats (17 U.S.C. 121), including electronic, Braille, or audio, for the use of people with disabilities. It is not permissible to further distribute the reformatted information, the original copyright information must be copied into the new format, and notice that the reformatted version is also protected by that copyright must also be included.
A group of educators, publishers, and copyright holders (The Creative Incentive Coalition) drafted a set of guidelines in how the concept of "fair use" applies to multimedia applications.
Contact the United States Copyright Office General Information and Publications for further copyright information.