Author Rights & Copyright

SMU Libraries Copyright Support is a four-person team trained in copyright instruction. We provide education and best practice guidelines keeping SMU faculty, students, and staff compliant with copyright law.  We offer workshops, Canvas modules, Research Guides and help services for your copyright questions.

Pages are intended for information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.

Copyright Basics

Copyright law protects original works, balancing the creator’s rights with the public’s right to certain uses. Copyright gives the owner the exclusive rights to:

  • Reproduce or copy the work,
  • Create derivative works,
  • Distribute copies to the public,
  • Public performance or display, and
  • Modification of the original work.

Using Copyrighted Works

You can use others’ copyrighted works if you:

Fair use allows you to use copyrighted materials under specific conditions. When deciding whether your use is fair, there are four factors that must all be considered, including:

  • How you are using the copyrighted work (educational use; creating a new work),
  • Nature of the copyrighted work,
  • Amount of the work being used, and
  • The impact on the market.

Using something educationally does not automatically make it a fair use. Our Fair Use Checklist can help you determine and document whether your use is fair. See our Copyright for Instructors page for more information on using copyrighted works in class.

Determining Copyright

Works with copyright protections have lengthy terms. The majority of materials created within the last 100 years are protected by copyright, but there are exceptions.

Things that are typically copyrighted:

  • Journal articles, books, and website content
  • Databases and electronic journals
  • Musical works, sound recordings, plays, film, and choreography
  • Art, photographs, and digital images
  • Computer software and video games

Things that are not copyrighted:

  • Most US Government publications
  • Published works for which copyright has expired or does not apply (works in the public domain)

Determine whether a work is copyrighted.

Open Access

Open access is a publishing model in which authors retain their rights to make scholarship available online for free, increasing its visibility and reuse.

SMU Libraries has agreements with Cambridge University Press, the Company of Biologists, and IEEE to cover the Article Processing Charges (APCs) for SMU-affiliated authors’ articles to be made available open access. We are not able to pay APCs for journals outside these agreements, although your school or college may have funds available for this purpose.

You may also be able to make pre- or post-prints available open access through SMU Scholar, our institutional repository.

Creative Commons Licensing

Creative Commons is a non-profit organization offering a variety of creative works freely available for legal use. Users can search the commons using Openverse to find shared content that can be repurposed or remixed. There are six CC license options that allow a variety of requirements and permissions including attribution, non-commercial use, and share alike. 

Learn More from Research Guides

  • Copyright Guide – Learn how to make a copyright evaluation, fair use, and licensing.
  • Licensing and Permission - How and when to get a license or permission, including Public Performance Rights.
  • Author Rights – Know how you can use your own work and how to retain your rights.