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Copyright: Explore Copyright

Discover your rights and responsibilities for the ethical use of information

Purpose of Copyright

As stated in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8, of the US Constitution, the purpose of Copyright is "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."

When an idea is expressed in a fixed medium, whether it be a painting, a story, a dance choreography, or a poem on the back of a napkin (though certainly not limited to those categories), it has legal copyright protections for a set period of time, allowing the creator to use or exploit the fruit of their work as they see fit, or not at all. In the past, this copyright required some formality in the way of registration or notice, but that is no longer the case for new works (Cornell University Library, 2022).

The circular, Copyright Basics makes clear what works are covered by Copyright Law.

There are some expressions, including facts, local laws, or works of the US Government (to name a few), which are excluded from copyright protections. These are born directly into the public domain, free to copy, reuse, adapt or distribute (Cornell University Library, 2022).

Copyright on Campus

View this brief video from the Copyright Clearance Center to learn more about U.S. copyright law and its impact and use on college campuses.

 copyright on campus

When Can I Use Other's Copyrighted Works?

When you want to use others' copyrighted materials in your teaching, you need to ask yourself three important questions:

1.   Is the material in the public domain? If so, you are free to use it without seeking permission.

2.   Does my proposed use fall under exemptions to the copyright law?

You can use the Fair Use Checklist, created by Kenneth D. Crews (formerly of Columbia University) and Dwayne K. Buttler (University of Louisville), as a guide to help you consider whether or not your intended use falls under the fair use exemption. Note: This checklist is not about simply checking and counting boxes. Instead, it is a guide to help you weigh the factors of fair use against your intended use. 

3.   Do I need to seek permission to use the material?

  • No - The material is already licensed by your institution for your proposed use
  • No - There are terms and conditions attached to the work or the Web site where you found it permitting your use
  • Yes - If none of the above apply.


The Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization (TEACH) Act was signed into law on November 2, 2002 in an effort to balance the needs of distance learners and educators with the rights of copyright holders. The TEACH Act applies to distance education that includes the participation of any enrolled student, on or off campus.

To learn more check out TEACH Act and the accompanying TEACH Act Checklist on the Copyright Crash Course from the University of Texas.

Tools to Determine Copyright Coverage

There are a lot of different issues involved in figuring out if U.S. copyright law requires you to seek permission (and often, pay a fee) to use others' materials in your teaching.

There are many tools available to help you determine if your intended use of others' materials is allowed under U.S. copyright law. Below are two tools you can use to determine if your use is allowed and/or if you need to seek permission to use material:

Copyright FAQs

Use the link below to learn about requesting permission and how to seek copyright for your own work