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Copyright and Fair Use

This guide provides information about copyright for students, staff, and faculty

Copyright Basics: Crash Course Intellectual Property 2 with Stan Muller

Definitions and Concepts

"Copyright is a collection of rights granted to artists, authors, musicians, and other creators of original works. Copyright laws seek to ensure that creative people benefit from their own creations. The laws protect against the unauthorized copying, distribution, and public performance of creative works. Many forms of expression, including books, computer programs, designs, motion pictures, musical compositions, paintings, and poems, are protected by copyright laws. Protected works are considered intellectual property. Such property is defined as a product of human creativity over which a person or group of people have legal control."

Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia, 2016

The United States Copyright Office has put together this guide on Copyright Basics to help clarify what protections copyright holders are afforded under U.S. Copyright Law

Learn more about copyright and how to obtain permissions from copyright holders at

The World Intellectual Property Organization states that, "Intellectual property (IP) refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce." Intellectual Property may protect creators and owners rights similar to traditional copyrights but expands these rights under the concept of related rights to reflect the broad scope of human endeavor.  

Read more about Intellectual Property in WIPO's What is Intellectual Property Guide


The Oxford English Dictionary defines Plagiarism as, "the action or practice of taking someone else's work, idea, etc., and passing it off as one's own; literary theft."

Plagiarism is not limited to literary or text based ideas but may also apply to the theft or misuse or images, video footage, music, media and other creative endeavors.

Plagiarism may occur in any of the following ways:

  • Theft by publishing, submitting or "turning in" another's work as your own
  • Directly quoting or paraphrasing the words and ideas of others without giving proper credit and citation
  • Providing incorrect or incomplete source information
  • Changing a few of the words and claiming the thought as your own
  • Using another's thoughts or ideas so extensively that it constitutes the majority of your own work (with or without proper citation)
  • Self-plagiarism, or submitting previously created work as new and original work

For more information on identifying and avoiding plagiarism, check out these links:

U.S. Copyright Office maintains, "Fair use is a legal doctrine that promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances. Section 107 of the Copyright Act provides the statutory framework for determining whether something is a fair use and identifies certain types of uses—such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research—as examples of activities that may qualify as fair use."

Fair Use is not an umbrella for scholars that uniformly protects all forms of use. To evaluate whether a particular use is protected under Section 107 consider the following:

What is the purpose and character of the use?
What is the nature of the of the copyrighted work?
How much of the copyrighted content will be used?
Does the use have an impact on the potential or actual value of the copyrighted work?

This Check List for Fair Use can help you determine if your intended use is protected. 

Still not sure whether your use of copyrighted material is considered fair use? Take a look at this guide from the University of Minnesota on Understanding Fair Use or contact a librarian who may make recommendations for your particular intended use of copyrighted or protected works. 


Stephen Fisherman writes in his book Public Domain: How to Find & Use Copyright-Free Writings, Music, Art & More that public domain refers to "creative works that for one reason or another are not protected by copyright law and are ordinarily free for all to use." (p.4)

Works are typically placed in public domain because the period of copyright has ended, the creator/owner/copyright holder has chosen to let the copyright expire, or the copyright protection was never sought for the original work. Works that are not subject to copyright or intellectual property protection may also be considered for use in the public domain. Such works are freely available for uses such as reproduction, adaptation, exhibition, distribution or redistribution.

An extensive list of Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States is provided by Cornell University.

This Copyright Term Calculator is a great tool if you need more information on the U.S. copyright term for a specific work.

The Creative Commons refers to a form of rights protection where the creator has chosen to allow certain rights such as limited use, distribution and reproduction to become public provided the work is properly attributed. Many images and creative works that would normally carry full copyright protections have been voluntarily placed under a Creative Commons license by their creators to promote research, innovation and accessibility. Creative Commons licenses may allow for commercial or noncommercial use, and such licenses allow creators to define how their work may be shared and used by others with greater freedom and specificity than traditional legal copyrights.

Learn more about creative commons licensing at


Get Permission

Fair Use may cover some uses of copyrighted materials in academic settings but if your intended use does not the pass the four factor test, you may need to seek permission directly from the copyright owner. 

Check your use against the four factors with the Thinking Through Fair Use Tool from the University of Minnesota Libraries

In most cases, permission may be obtained directly from the author, creator, or provider of the work. Not all copyrighted works are easily identified. Copyright protects orphan works, performance arts, and other creative works.

Get Permission


Schreiner University Code of Academic Conduct

Honesty and Integrity on Campus

While Copyright & Fair Use exceptions address the legal uses of protected materials, the misuse of intellectual property commonly referred to as plagiarism is of particular concern in the academic setting. Plagiarism is addressed specifically in Schreiner University's Academic Code of Conduct and Intellectual Property policies. As defined in the SU Student Handbook

Plagiarism (p. 16, A.2)

Submitting material that in part or whole is not entirely one’s own work without attributing those same portions to their correct source. (Themes, essays, term papers, tests and other similar requirements must be the work of the student submitting them. When direct quotations are used, they must be indicated, and when the ideas of another are incorporated in the paper, they must be appropriately acknowledged.