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Copyright Guidelines

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a set of laws that:

  • protects an author's original works, and
  • lets authors control their works.

Most works are copyrighted the moment they are created. Copyright protects works regardless of whether they are electronic or physical, published or unpublished.

What if I want to use a copyrighted work?

United States federal Copyright law grants the creator of an original work a number of exclusive rights, but obtaining permission should not be the first step.  When solving a copyright problem, ask these questions:

  1. Is the work protected by copyright
  2. If yes, does an exception to copyright apply (e.g. is it in the public domain)? Consult Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United StatesIf yes, then you can use the work. 
  3. If not, does fair use apply? If yes, then you can use the work.
  4. If not, and the work is protected by copyright, seek permission to use the work.

Can I use it?

Can you use that copyrighted work? This flow chart (created by the University of Minnesota Libraries) can get you started. 

Can I Use It Chart