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Copyright and Fair Use

This guide is designed to provide basic, general information about copyright, and does not constitute legal advice.

Questions and Answers

What works can I use in my online course?

     You may use:

  • Government documents published by the US government
  • Links to materials in the Library's databases
  • Fair use portions of other people's works
  • Facts, ideas,
  • Public Domain works
  • Some Creative Commons works
  • Works you have received permission to use (Get permission in writing and keep a copy of it on file)
  • Your own original works    

When will my work be copyrighted?

     As soon as your original, creative work is fixed in a tangible medium it is copyrighted.

What is not copyrightable? (U.S. Copyright Office Circular 34)

  • Ideas, procedures, concepts, systems, processes, or methods of doing something
  • Facts
  • Names, titles, short phrases, slogans, list of ingredients, familiar symbols or designs. However, designs may be protected by trademarks.
  • Works which consist entirely of information that is common property and contain no original authorship (ex. height and weight charts, tape measures, rulers, etc.)

What works can be copyrighted?   

     (a) Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. Works of authorship include the following categories:

(1) literary works;

(2) musical works, including any accompanying words;

(3) dramatic works, including any accompanying music;

(4) pantomimes and choreographic works;

(5) pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;

(6) motion pictures and other audiovisual works;

(7) sound recordings; and

(8) architectural works.

(b) In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.  --US Code Annotated, Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 102


What are the rights of the Copyright Holder?

Subject to sections 107 through 122, the owner of copyright under this title has the exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following:

(1) to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords;

(2) to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work;

(3) to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;

(4) in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works, to perform the copyrighted work publicly;

(5) in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to display the copyrighted work publicly; and

(6) in the case of sound recordings, to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission. --US Code Annotated, Title 17 Chapter 1, Section 106


If I use fair use portions of other people's works in the creation of a multimedia work, can I post my multimedia work to the Internet?

     Fair use permits you to use fair use portions for multimedia projects that you will show in class, permits you to keep one copy in your portfolio, and, sometimes,to post for a limited time to your secure campus course management system.  It does not give you an exemption to post the project to a website, especially an unsecured website.  If you plan to post your work  to the Internet, you should seek permission from the copyright holders in the course of developing the work or use works that are in the public domain.


What do the U.S. courts consider when deciding if there has been a copyright infringement:

     There are four "Rules of Thumb" the courts use when deciding whether or not an infringement exists.  These are:

  • The nature of the use (Is it transformative?)
  • The nature of the work used
  • The extent of the use
  • The economic impact of the use

How do I give proper attribution for the portions of other works I have used?

      Generally speaking, you would either have the attribution in the bibliography or the credits.


Glossary of Terms


Identifying the source of a work. For example, a Creative Commons "BY" or attribution license requires the second user of a copyrighted work

to identify the original source of the work.


Creator of a work.


A form of legal protection given to the creators of "original works of authorship," including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works. U.S. copyright law generally gives the author of an original creative work an exclusive right to reproduce (copy) or distribute the original work to the

public, create new works based upon the original work, and perform or display the work publicly.

Copyright infringement

A violation of the exclusive rights of a copyright holder, such as copying, distributing, or performing the copyright owner's work without permission unless the use is otherwise authorized by law.

Copyright term

The length of time the law allows copyright owners to hold the exclusive rights on their original works.

Derivative work

A new work that translates or transforms one or more original copyrighted works (e.g., a movie made from a comic book, a song written about a photograph, etc.).


A form of communication. Creative ideas alone are not copyrightable. But the communication of creative ideas in a fixed medium of expression (e.g., a book, play, drawing, film, photo, etc.) may be copyrighted.

Fair Use

One of several legal limitations on the exclusive rights granted to copyright owners. Fair use permits a second user to copy part or all of a copyrighted work under certain circumstances, even when the copyright holder has not given permission or even objects to that use of the work. Courts evaluate fair use claims case-by-case relying primarily on four factors: the purpose and character of the use of copyrighted work, the nature of the original work, the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole, and the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the original work.

File sharing

The practice of uploading and downloading digital files (text, audio, video, or image) to and from a computer network where more than one user has access to those files.


Permission granted by the copyright holder to copy, distribute, display, transform and/or perform a copyrighted work.


A genre of derivative works that are built by creatively reusing and combining various portions of music, film, audio, and graphics.


An exaggerated, often comical work that takes elements from the work it comments upon in order to target its point.

Peer-to-peer (P2P) technology

A network of online computers that allows users to share (upload and download) digital files from computer to computer.


The practice of passing off another author's work or ideas as one's own.

Public domain

Works that are not restricted by copyright and do not require a license or fee to use. Works can enter the public domain automatically because they are not copyrightable, be designated in the public domain by the creator, or become part of the public domain because the copyright term has expired.

Remix culture

A term frequently used by Stanford law professor and Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig to refer to a community of amateur creators who blend media and materials to develop new works, and the social context that fosters the growth of that community.


A person, group or organization that has a vested interest in the positive or negative outcome of an action.

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Creative Commons Attribution License,

Author: Richard Esguerra