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What is this page for?

Do you have a general idea about what copyright means, but maybe aren't sure how it applies to you as a student, or how it will matter in your life after college?

Did you know that you have quite a bit of freedom to use information (such as texts, images, or videos) for educational purposes, under a doctrine known as "Fair Use"?

Are you interested in finding public domain materials that you can use for any reason (educational or otherwise) without a problem? Watch the video below to get started, and keep reading for more information and links!

What is Copyright?

In simple terms, copyright refers to an author's right to control what happens to their creation, such as whether copies can be made, how the work is distributed or sold, and how the work is used or cited. Copyright has a long history, and the law in the United States has been updated many times over the years, resulting in some complicated rules about when a given work might be "out of copyright" or in the "public domain." See the public domain section below for more information.

Here's a link to the text of the US Copyright Law.

What about Fair Use?

You may have heard of something called the Fair Use Doctrine when it comes to using images or music, making copies of texts, or accessing materials for courses you might be taking. What is Fair Use, and how do you know if it applies to your situation?

Basically, if you are sued for copyright infringement (Eek!) a court can decide that your use leans towards Fair Use by weighing four factors:

  • Purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes.
  • Nature of the copyrighted work [i.e. are you benefiting from someone else's creativity, or recontextualizing a factual work? Was it published or unpublished?]
  • Amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole. [This gets difficult with images but for texts it makes sense that the less you use, the better].
  • Effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. [Are you affecting the original author's livelihood by your use?]

More info about Fair Use from the US Copyright Office. The Copyright Advisory Network of the American Library Association's Office of Information Technology Policy has a Fair Use Evaluator tool to help you make a more informed decision about applying Fair Use appropriately.

How can I find Public Domain materials?

Make sure you take a look at the Image Copyright tab as there are more resources there.

The Public Domain Review is an interesting source for reviews of images & other notable cultural artifacts that are in the public domain.