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Copyright and Fair Use

A quick overview of copyright law and fair use that may be helpful for faculty and students.


Q: Can I use copyrighted text and/or images in my thesis or dissertation?
A: You can use copyrighted text or images in your thesis or dissertation if you obtain permission or if you follow the four criteria explained in the Copyright & Fair Use tab.
Q: Can I use copyrighted materials covered by the TEACH Act for multiple courses and multiple semesters?
A: You can use copyrighted materials for multiple courses and multiple semesters if following the guidelines of the TEACH Act. You do not need permission from semester to semester as with face-to-face materials. The TEACH Act is not a criteria of fair use, but an exemption for public "performance" and "display" in the classroom as designated by copyright law. 
Q: What types of works does copyright protect?
A: The copyright law protects original creative works that are in a fixed format, including but not limited to books (fiction and nonfiction), journal articles, plays, poetry, songs, movies, computer software, photographs, graphics, architectural works, choreography, and audiovisual works. You do not need to publish a work in order for it to be in copyright.
Q: How do I know who the copyright holder is of a work?
A: Look for a copyright symbol and that will show you the name of the person or entity that holds the copyright. If you do not find a copyright symbol, then the owner of the copyright is usually the author or entity that published or created the work.
Q: How do I get permission from the copyright holder?
A: You can request permission to use a work directly from the creator in the event that you do not have a good fair use case. Use the links below to find template permission letters for different forms of content. Other templates are available in the Copyright & Fair Use tab under Licenses and Permissions.
Q: How do I find open access images that I do not need permission to use?
A: Look at the tab How to Find Open Content
Q: How do I cite images in my paper or presentation?
A: In MLA you would create a citation using the creator's name, the title of the image, the title of the website, any publication date found and the URL of the website. In APA, the creator's name, date of the image (if available), title of the image, and the URL are included. You can find examples of citing images on the Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab) website for MLA, APA, Chicago, and AMA. Images would be cited just like any other resource in the text of your paper or project and in the works cited or references list.
Q: What is a Creative Commons license?
A: A Creative Commons license is a copyright license chosen by a work's creator to grant free distribution of a work following certain guidelines of the distribution. There are six types of licenses for a creator to choose if they want to give access to their work. Ranging from a license that lets others freely distribute and edit a work with full credit to the creator to a license that only allows downloading and sharing of a work with full credit to the creator, Creative Commons has something for everyone who would like to share their work with others while also receiving credit for their work.
Q: Can I get a copyright for the papers or projects I have created?
A: Yes. In general, any original work that you create - including papers you write for class, music you compose, PowerPoint presentations you create, or photos you shoot - is protected by copyright as soon as it is in a tangible form. You do not need to put a copyright notice on your work or register it with the U.S. Copyright Office for it to be protected. Anyone who wants to use your copyrighted work - including your professors - should ask your permission.

Registering your work does offer some extra protection, especially if you want to publish it; visit the U.S. Copyright Office website for more information on why and how to register your work.

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Need a question answered that isn't on our FAQs? We will do our best to help you find the answer! - Melissa Atkinson - Online Learning Librarian - Erica Pye - Special Collections and Archives Librarian - Dr. Kenneth Pybus, JD - Associate Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication