Find Media (Images, Video, Audio): Copyright

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a form of intellectual property law that protects authors of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works by granting to them exclusive rights to do or allow others to do things such as makes copies of or distribute the work, modify the work, or publically display or perform the work.

Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, but it may protect the way these things are expressed.  For example, facts in a history textbook are not protected by copyright, but the book in which those facts appear would be.

How does copyright differ from plagiarism?

Copyright and plagiarism are two very different things. Copyright is a legal concept dealing with permission. Do you have permission to use a photo in your presentation or a quote in your paper? If not, you could be violating copyright. Plagiarism, on the other hand, is an academic concept that deals with failing to properly cite your sources or passing off someone else’s material as your own. Even if you have permission to use the material, failing to properly cite it could be considered plagiarism.

What are alternatives?

A good rule of thumb is to assume everything you find online is copyright protected even if it does not include a copyright symbol or other identifying copyright information. Creative Commons is a great place to find online material you can freely use without having to worry about getting copyright permission as long as you follow the requirements set out in the Creative Commons license. You can search Creative Commons at

What is fair use?

The fair use doctrine allows you to use copyrighted material without getting permission from the copyright holder. In other words, even if you don’t have permission to use copyrighted materials, you still may be able to use it if it falls under fair use. Each scenario presents a unique set of facts that must be examined on a case-by-case basis. Unfortunately, there is no one size fits all answer when talking about fair use. Determining what is and is not a fair use can be complicated but it becomes easier with practice.   

When deciding whether your use is a fair use, you can refer to the checklist below to see if it weighs in favor of or against fair use using the four-factor fair use test. No one factor will determine fair use, but all factors should be balanced and considered.


Favoring Fair Use

  • Non-profit Educational Institution
  • Used for Teaching, Research, or Scholarship
  • Used for Criticism or Comment
  • Transformative (using work for a new purpose)
  • Non-commercial, non-profit use
  • Use is necessary to achieve your educational purpose

Not Favoring Fair Use

  • Commercial or for-profit use
  • Entertainment
  • Exceeds what is necessary to achieve your educational purpose


Favoring Fair Use

  • Published work
  • Factual or non-fiction work
  • Non-consumable work

Not Favoring Fair Use

  • Highly creative work
  • Consumable work
  • Unpublished work


Favoring Fair Use

  • Small portion of entire work used
  • Portion used not “heart” of the work
  • Amount is appropriate to achieve your educational purpose

Not Favoring Fair Use

  • Large portion of entire work used
  • Portion used is “heart” of the work
  • Amount used is more than necessary to achieve your educational purpose


Favoring Fair Use

  • No significant effect on the market or potential market for the original
  • Access is restricted to students enrolled in course for that term
  • No longer in print
  • Permission for digital excerpt is not readily available at a reasonable price
  • User owns a lawfully acquired copy of the original

Not Favoring Fair Use

  • Cumulative effect of copying would be to substitute for purchase of the copyrighted work
  • Numerous copies made and/or distributed
  • Reasonably available licensing mechanism for obtaining permission to use the copyrighted work currently available
  • Will be making it publicly available on the Web or using other means of broad dissemination
  • Repeated or long-term use
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