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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.

What is Open Content?

Open content refers to a creative work (image, document, text, video, etc.) that is free to use, copy and modify without asking for permission. This also means that you cannot get in trouble for using the content illegally since it is not under copyright. Use the boxes below to see suggestions on how to find music, images, and videos that are open sourced and legal to use.

Looking for information about Open Textbooks? Check out our Open Educational Resources Libguide!

Remember: content in the public domain is free to use and modify (see box "The Public Domain" for more information). If you cannot find the content you want in an open format, you can always directly ask the creator for permission (see Copyright & Fair Use tab, "Copyright Basics" box, tab "Licenses and Permissions.")

Open access is a related term that means free access to content, usually referring to peer-reviewed scholarly journals. The logo for Open access is an open lock.

The Public Domain

"Public Domain" refers to creative works that are not protected by copyright, trademark or patent laws. No one owns this content, therefore it is free to use and modify by the public. 

Works go into the public domain when:

  • copyright has expired and not been renewed 
  • copyright owner deliberately gives up rights and chooses to place in public domain
  • content is the kind that copyright does not protect (examples: government works, factual data)

Expired copyrights: All works published in the U.S. that were created before 1923 are now in the public domain. Copyright generally expires 70 years after the creator's death if it is not renewed. 


Some websites exist that allow free use of music for educational purposes. Following is a list of some of these websites.


To find open source images on Google Images, after typing in what you are searching, click on "Advanced Search" under the "Settings" tab. Under the "usage rights" section, select what kind of license you want content to be filtered by. Alternatively, instead of clicking on "Advanced Search," you can click on "Tools," then "Usage Rights" to filter images under a particular license.

This image of the Open Access logo was found on Google Images, filtered by images that are "free to use, share or modify, even commercially"

Creative Commons Licenses

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. 


Image result for creative commons license


Each of the Creative Commons licenses tells you what you have permission to do with the content. Some allow you to reuse content without modifying, others allow you to modify. Some licenses permit you to use content as long as you attribute the original creator. Some only allow you to use content non-commercially. 

Videos and Films

Embedding or linking to a video from YouTube does not violate copyright laws. However, use caution if an entire movie or film is found on YouTube as it may be there illegally.

Digital Commons @ ACU

The Digital Commons @ ACU (also known as DC@ACU) is ACU's open access digital institutional repository. The Digital Commons link can be used to gain access to works written by ACU faculty and graduate students.

Check out the Stone-Campbell Teaching Archive for resources to find and share about the Stone-Campbell Movement from ACU's Special Collections Department.  

The Digital Commons Network lets you explore over 2 million works from 530 institutions. These works are all Open Access and full text.