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Copyright and Fair Use

What is copyright?

The term copyright refers to a law designed to give authors, artists, musicians, photographers--anyone who creates an original work, the exclusive rights to copy, distribute, perform, display and/or make derivative works (new works based on the original). 

Copyright exists the moment a work is created, regardless of whether it has been registered through the U.S. Copyright Office. 


What is fair use?

Fair use is a provision of the copyright law that allows for certain unauthorized use of copyrighted material. There are four factors to consider when trying to determine whether use of material would be considered fair use: 

  • Purpose and character of use
  • Nature of the copyrighted work
  • Amount and substantiality of the material used
  • Effect of use on the potential market


Why should you care?

If you have created a website or project using photographs, clip art, music or graphics created by other people, you may be guilty of copyright infringement, even if you have given credit to the copyright owner. See these sites for more information on what you can and can't do:

Copyright and Digital Images
Copyright and Music


How can you protect yourself?

It is a common misconception that anything used for the purpose of education qualifies as fair use. This isn't true. To make sure you don't accidentally violate a copyright:

  • Know the copyright of the work you want to use.
  • If you aren't sure about a specific copyright, don't use it.
  • Look for works that are in the public domain, meaning the copyright has expired. 
  • Look for public copyright licenses, such as Creative Commons licenses. 
  • Make sure you know and understand the permissions granted by the copyright owner. 
  • When in doubt, get permission before you publish/use someone else's work.