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Copyright: Copyright

An introduction to issues of copyright as they relate to students and faculty on campus


This guide provides general educational information and links to external sources.  Under no circumstance should any content herein should be assumed or construed as any form of legal advice.   For legal advice, consult an intellectual property attorney.

Works Under "Copyright"

To be copyrighted, a work must be:
  1. Original:  A work must be created independently. Not copied from another source.  
  2. A Work of Authorship: The work must be the result of creative expression which is copyrightable.  The US Supreme Court says, at a minimum, a work must have. a “spark” and “modicum” of creativity.
  3. Fixed: To be fixed, a work must be in a tangible medium of expression for more
    than just a passing time so it might be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated.

Public Domain Guides

The Copyright Genie
A question/answer wizard that determines the copyright protection on a work depending on age and policy. The end results can be exported into a PDF
Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States
A useful guide on copyright from Cornell University Library
Digital Copyright Slider
Digital slider that shows possible copyright status of works based on their time of their creation

The Four Factors of Fair Use

Fair Use allows the copying or use of copyrighted work without permission, under certain circumstances.

Fair Use allows copying for education, scholarship, criticism, parody or satire, and transformative works.

Fair Use is a legal defense, not a law, and cases are evaluated individually. Evaluation is done by examining:

Each of these four factors must be considered in making a decision about Fair Use.

1. The purpose and character of your use
The Transformative Factor
--Has new value, meaning, aesthetics, or understanding been added? 
--Scholarly research and parody are both value-added.
--Review the US Copyright Office Fair Use Index for more information

2. The Nature of the Copyrighted Work
--A stronger case can be made for use of nonfictional rather than fictional works.
--Greater leeway is granted for using published rather than unpublished works
--Review the US Copyright Office Fair Use Index for more information

3. The Amount and Substantiality of the Portion Taken
--Less is best—The less one uses copyrighted material, the less chance one has to infringe on copyright
--“The heart of the work” standard---the crux or most essential part of a copyrighted work may be brief.  It is more important,              however than less crucial albeit more lengthy material.
--Parody has no heart—In some circumstances, parody may include an entire work including any essential passages.
Review the US Copyright Office Fair Use Index for more information

4. The Effect of the Use upon the Potential Market
--Does your use deprive the copyright owner of income or undermine the market for their copyrighted work?
--Review the US Copyright Office Fair Use Index for more information

Fair Use Fundamentals 

This infographic explains fair use, its importance, and its uses, as well as some examples.

PANE Threshold

Wiley Education Services (2017) offers guidance on fair use using the acronym:
Purpose and character of the use
Amount and substantiality of the portion used
Nature of the copyrighted work
Effect of the use upon the potential market

Making Fair Use Decisions

  • Be consistent
  • Recognize that reasonable people can disagree
  • Remember that Fair Use is interpretative, and is the same process used by the court system.
  • There is no immediate answer for whether an item is covered under Fair Use.
  • All of the Four Factors must be considered in making a decision.
    ​​​​Cromwell, J., & Sarah Mangrum. (2016). Copyright Do’s and Don’ts. Copyright Commons at Southern Miss.

Subject Guide

Profile Photo
Daniel Liestman

DOs & DON'Ts of Copyright


  • Assume all material is copyright protected until you can show it is not.
  • Read and understand before clicking that you agree and understand. 
  • Buy or license content before using it.
  • Include any Creative Commons notices provided on a licensed work, and include an appropriate citation.
  • Remember corporations like Disney, Marvel, Microsoft, etc. aggressively monitor for infringement and are prompt to issue cease and desist orders.
  • Behave and think as a mature responsible ethical digital citizen!


  • Assume citing a source or giving credit protects you from copyright infringement
  • Assume any use is fair use because you are a student or educator
  • Repeatedly use copyrighted repeatedly in the same class without securing  permission 
  • ​​​​​​​Assume that because you found it online you can use it for free
  • Assume any quid pro quo permission is implied if you are giving "free advertising" to a source without permission


Creative Commons License

 CC BYThis license allows reusers to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format, so long as attribution is given to the creator. The license allows for commercial use.