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"Only one thing is impossible for God: To find any sense in any copyright law on the planet." - Mark Twain


"To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." (Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution)

Copyright law in the United States is rooted in the desire to capture and leverage expressions of new ideas. At the same time, copyright law recognizes that the impetus to create is based on the ability to access already existing expressions of intellectual creativity and use them as platforms upon which we create anew. In addition, copyright law also provides mechanisms that allow us to use existing expressions of ideas to voice opinion, criticism, and dissent.

The academic scholarship and educational endeavors of our institution are based upon the capacity to create and distribute ideas. Most often these ideas have been captured and recorded, whether as literary works in traditional formats, or with the advent of technologies, in multiple electronic formats, and even as re-contextualized content that is examined from a scholarly perspective or used to educate. How do faculty and students keep abreast of the application of copyright law in their writing, research, instruction and education?

This purpose of this guide is to provide our faculty, students, staff and others in our community an understanding of copyright law and it's proper application in an academic environment. A better understanding and application of copyright law both avoids potential legal issues and makes us all better stewards of the intellectual property of others.

Where to Begin

If you have material you wish to use but are unsure of what to do about copyright. Here are some simple steps to help you determine what to do.

1. Determine if you are dealing with a copyrighted work.

Is the work in the public domain? Works in the public domain are no longer protected by copyright. Generally works created prior to 1923 are in the public domain. See the public domain tab to learn how to identify these works.

2. If the work is copyrighted, then you need to pursue these paths.

  • Is the work licensed by the University, in which case the copyright is covered for you?
    • Check the University Library's collection of databases and electronic resources.
    • Check to see if the copyrighted resources you wish to use are licensed by your department.

‚ÄčIf licensed and your use is permitted by that license, proceed as the license permits.

  • If the work is not in the public domain or licensed for use, check to see ff there a legal exemption to copyright law that would allow you to use the work.
    • Section 110 (1) covering classroom performance and display
    • The TEACH Act (Section 110(2)) covering digital transmissions for performance and display
    • The DMCA exemptions
    • Section 107 covering fair use

3. If none of the above allows you to use a copyrighted work, then you must permission to use the work.

This guide provides detailed information and guidance on everything discussed above. Also available are tutorials, tools and additional resources.

Online Tutorials


This tool by the American Library Association will help you find out if a work is covered by U.S. copyright, calculate its terms of protection, and collect and publish the results (as a PDF) to save for your records or further vet with a copyright specialist.