Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U.S. Code) to the authors of "original works of authorship," including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works.

Copyright protection exists from the moment a work is fixed in a tangible form of expression. It is the right granted by law to an author or creator to control the use of the work created. This allows the owner of the copyrighted material to:

  • Make copies
  • Distribute copies
  • Prepare derivatives based on the original work
  • Perform the work publicly
  • Display the work publicly

Types of work protected by copyright include:

  • Written works
  • Music and lyrics
  • Photographs and videos
  • Drawings
  • Architecture
  • Software
  • Performances that are recorded or transcribed
  • Novel presentations of data or interpretations thereof

Copyright is automatically applied to a work after it's tangible expression. A person's intellectual property is protected by copyright for at least 70 years after their death.

How can I use copyrighted work?

There are several ways you can use copyrighted work.

  • You can link to the material. Linking to an image or public website is not copying. While you should still cite and give attribution to the owner of the website, it is not usually required to request permission to link to a publicly available website.
  • You can request permissions from the copyright owner.
  • You can use the work in accordance with an existing license.
  • Your use may fall under exceptions and limitations of copyright law, like fair use, section 108 for libraries, or the T.E.A.C.H. Act.

Get more information:

  • Requesting Permissions
    Information on requesting permissions to use copyrighted material including a request template.
  • The T.E.A.C.H Act
    The T.E.A.C.H Act outlines exceptions for the performance and display of materials in educational settings.
  • See the Fair Use tab below for more on the four factors of fair use.
Fair Use

The Fair Use Doctrine (section 107 of U.S. Copyright law) is part of the Copyright Act of 1976 and is based on a history of judicial decisions that recognized that some unauthorized use of copyrighted materials were "fair uses."

Section 107 contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. It also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:

  • The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational use
  • The nature of the copyrighted work
  • The amount and sustainability of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  • The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work

This worksheet may help you to determine if your use of a copyrighted work is likely to be considered a "fair use."

Learn more with these resources:

Creative Commons

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization with a legal framework that enables creators to publish works while explicitly granting permissions for those works to be used in ways that would typically be prohibited by copyright.

Learn more with these resources:

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