Copyright protects an author’s original creations from being used by others without permission.
Almost everything in print or online is protected by copyright. Copyrighted works include books, articles, photographs, movies, blog posts, works of art, music and more. Copyrights are given automatically in the US from the time a work is written down or created in a fixed form. Copyright means that the author or creator has exclusive rights to decide how others may use or distribute their works.
Using Copyrighted Works
You will frequently refer to the copyrighted works of others while doing scholarly research. In order to avoid copyright violations, keep the following in mind.
Always cite someone else’s work when you refer to it so that you aren’t seen as taking credit for their ideas. Taking credit for someone else’s work is plagiarism. Learn more about avoiding plagiarism.
There are times when you are allowed to use some portion of copyrighted materials without express permission, including for personal and educational use. This is known as fair use. Use our Fair Use Checklist to help decide if your use is fair. You still need to cite the work wherever you incorporate it into your own.
The Public Domain
Creators can choose to give up their copyright so their work can be used by anyone in whatever way they wish. This places the work in the public domain. Works in the public domain will indicate this with a phrase or license mark such as those offered by Creative Commons.
Older works with expired copyrights are also in the public domain. Use this chart by Peter Hirtle at Cornell University to help determine if older works are in the public domain.
Still cite! Even if the work is in the public domain, citing the creator helps people know that you aren’t claiming to have created it and directs them to the original source.
Ask for Permission
If you aren’t sure whether a work is copyrighted, assume that it is. If you don’t think you have a case for fair use, contact the work’s creator to request permission to use it.
The fact that something is online does NOT mean that it isn’t copyrighted. Remember: the moment it was created, it became covered by copyright law in the U.S. The same laws and guidelines apply.
Sharing Copyrighted Materials
If you’d like to share copyrighted works with others, share the link to the item’s original source rather than providing them with a digital copy. Copyright compliance is just one of the reasons to do this – there are more.
The information on this page is a brief overview. For more information on copyright, refer to:
Contact Scholarly Communications Research & Teaching Librarian Librarian, Sonya Durney with any questions about copyright.