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 it (like for education or for 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.
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 videogames
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)
Learn More from Research Guides
- Copyright Research Guide – Learn how to make a copyright evaluation, fair use, and licensing.
- Copyright for Instructors - How to use copyrighted resources in courses.
- Licensing and Permission - How and when to get a license or permission, including Public Performance Rights.
- Author’s Rights – Know how you can use your own work and how to retain your rights.
Information here is intended as a guideline and should not be considered professional legal advice.