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Library & Information Technology

Finding Images

Links to image databases and websites.

Copyright Basics

What is copyright?

Copyright is a bundle of rights that includes the right to copy, distribute, publish, perform, and display a work, as well as to prepare derivative works. Copyright is set forth in the U.S. Constitution to "promote the progress of science and the useful arts" by giving authors control over their works for a limited time. Federal copyright laws have been enacted in 17 U.S. Code §101 et seq.

What is covered by copyright? 

Any original content you create in a tangible format! This includes not only scholarly work, but even your to-do list at home, your monthly report, your email messages, your child's art work or notes you take at meetings and presentations. Works that can be copyrighted include, but are not limited to, literary, musical, and dramatic works; pantomimes and choreographic works; pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works; sound recordings; motion pictures and other AV works; computer programs, architectural works; and compilations and derivative works.

Who is the copyright owner? 

Generally, the author or authors of a work own the copyright. If an employee creates a work within the scope of her employment then the employer generally owns the copyright. This is considered a work made for hire. Students hold the copyright in their own creative and scholarly works. The requirement to provide a copy of a paper or project created as an assignment for class does not mean that the student has surrendered their copyright.

Does material on the Web have copyright protection? 

Material on the Internet is copyrighted. Look for terms and conditions of acceptable use for images and text you find online before copying and using any content.

Are images, music, or video from a web site copyrighted? 

Since most creative expression is copyrighted as soon as it is fixed in tangible form, you should assume that most material on websites is copyrighted.

What is not covered by copyright? 

Ideas, facts, slogans, names and short phrases cannot be copyrighted. Methods of operations, systems, processes, principles, discoveries, and procedures cannot be copyrighted, although it may be possible to copyright the way these things are expressed.

How long does copyright last? 

The term for copyright protection has changed over the years. Currently, copyright lasts from the moment a work is created until 70 years after the death of the author, except for works produced by a company/employer. In those cases, the copyright lasts 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from creation. Works produced prior to 1978 have variable durations. For a more detailed explanation of possible copyright terms see Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States.

What are public domain works? 

Works in the public domain have no copyright and can be used freely. They include works in which the copyright period has expired, such as most works published in the U.S. before 1924, or works which never had copyright protection, such as many materials published by the U.S. federal government, or works elected to be placed in the public domain through a Creative Commons license.

Public domain resources

Copyright Advisory Office of Columbia University: Lists numerous sources of public domain works.

Stanford Copyright and Fair Use Office: More information about the public domain.

Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States: Detailed chart showing copyright term lengths.

The Copyright Genie: Interactive tool to help you find out if a work has entered the public domain.

Stanford's Copyright Renewal Database is a searchable index of the copyright renewal records for books published in the US between 1923 and 1963.

DISCLAIMER: The information on these web pages and that received from the Copyright Resources Center at OSU Libraries and the Health Sciences Copyright Management Office is not legal advice, nor is either office legal counsel to OSU, CCAD, or any members of the CCAD community.

Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts

What is Fair Use?

Video transcript

What is fair use?

As defined in Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act, fair use is a defense against charges of copyright infringement determined through the analysis and application of the four fair use factors:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

When does fair use apply? Fair use frequently functions as an exemption to the copyright law for educational and socially important purposes such as teaching, research, criticism, commentary, parody, and news reporting; however, you cannot assume that all educational use is fair use. Anytime that you wish to use copyrighted material without permission you should consider all of the four fair use factors. 

How do I know if my intended purpose is within the limits of fair use? The fair use statute provides only the framework for the analysis and application of the four fair use factors. This means that the law lacks specificity, but it also means that fair use is flexible enough to be applied in a wide variety of situations. It can be difficult to determine if your intended use fits within the limitations of the fair use statute. Fortunately there are a number of very useful tools available online to help you consider the four fair use factors as they apply to your intended use.

What if my use is outside the limits of fair use? If you do a fair use analysis and determine that your intended use does not qualify as fair use, you have a couple of options. First, you can obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. Your second option is to reconsider your intended use. You can review your fair use analysis and determine which factors of your intended use most oppose fair use and make changes to be more favorable. For example, you could reduce the amount of material or choose content from different works that might be more favorable to fair use. You could also try to find comparable works in the public domain or Creative Commons works that would meet your purpose.

Resources for determining fair use

Columbia University Libraries Fair Use Checklist: A printable fair use checklist created by copyright expert Kenneth Crews.

U.S. Copyright Office - Fair Use 

DISCLAIMER: The information on these web pages and that received from the Copyright Resources Center at OSU Libraries and the Health Sciences Copyright Management Office is not legal advice, nor is either office legal counsel to OSU, CCAD, or any members of the CCAD community.