Copyright is a legal issue – if you violate copyright laws you may be sued, fined, and in extreme cases sent to jail. Know the rules, and know your rights! Plagiarism is a separate issue that has consequences in school. See our plagiarism page.
The Basics: You must get permission, or buy a license, to use any material that is
- books and writing
- all art including pictures, paintings, sculptures, photographs
- dance and performances
- computer games
- movies and video
Exceptions: FAIR USE, PUBLIC DOMAIN, and CREATIVE COMMONS
Check out our copyright free picture, music, and film page with tips on how to find copyright-free material.
To prove Fair Use you may use the work without getting permission, but you still need to give credit to the source. To prove Fair Use, you need to hit criteria in these four areas:
1. Prove Fair Use with your purpose:
- transformative (changing the original to make something new)
- non-commercial (you don’t make money on it)
- original content is factual vs creative
2. Prove Fair Use with the nature of the copyrighted work:
- factual is better
3. Prove Fair Use with the amount of work used:
- less is better. Only use the amount needed to prove your point or serve your need
4. Prove Fair Use with the effect of the new work on the old:
- you cannot compete with the original
- you cannot devalue the original
Situations where Fair Use applies:
- educational work
- news reporting
- parody and satire
- criticism and commentary
Examples that are NOT Fair Use:
- music running in the background to a project or youtube video (you could use a portion of a song to add value to your new work)
- quote poems or song lyrics in a novel you are writing
- copy someone else’s blog post into your blog
- creating a transcript of a TV show and posting it on social media
Public Domain means a work has fallen out of copyright and anyone can use it at any time for any purpose. Public domain laws are complicated, but a good rule of thumb is works published before 1923 are in the public domain. Some creators put their works in the public domain when they publish them to allow for more creative work.
Creative Commons licenses are chosen by the creator of a work, and there is a full spectrum of possibilities ranging from allowing downloading of the original work while crediting the author and not changing the work at all, to allowing downloading and using it any way (including commercially and changing the original) as long as credit is given to the original creator.
Copyright Wordle at the top of the page by Chrissy H and Understanding Copyright by Renee Hobbs, Katie Donnelly and Sandra Braman.