Copyright and Fair Use


Using images, music, or streaming video in an assignment or project?

If you are using content that you did not write or create, chances are good it is copyright protected. Scroll through the tabs in the box below to learn about copyright, the fair use of copyright protected content, and properly crediting the sources you reuse.

Copyright is a protection given to authors of "creative works" like images, music, movies and books. The unauthorized use of copyrighted material is considered infringement of copyright law and is illegal.

Fair use is an exception to copyright law that allows copyright-protected works to be used in certain circumstances without permission from the copyright holder. If you intend to use a copyrighted article, book, image or video, you will want your use to fall within fair use guidelines.

Before using a copyrighted work, begin to examine your circumstance by asking yourself questions like:

  • What is the purpose of my use?
  • Is the work I want to use creative or factual? Published or unpublished?
  • How much of the work will I use? Does the portion I want to use make up the "soul" of the work?
  • Might my use affect the market for the original work?

If you intend to use images and other digital content in a class assignment or project and want to learn more about properly crediting authors and creators and following fair use guidelines, keep reading.

What is the difference between plagiarism and copyright infringement?

Copyright infringement is using someone else's work without their permission when the use falls outside the boundaries of copyright exceptions, and is a legal issue. Plagiarism is claiming that you are the author of someone else's work, and is an ethical one.

Avoid plagiarism by:

  • Doing your own work;
  • Citing all information used, including facts, data, journal articles, books, web pages, video, and images; and
  • Citing all non-traditional sources, such as radio, television or a conversation with a friend.

Plagiarism can be deliberate or unintentional. Unintentional plagiarism due to confusion or lack of preparedness does not absolve you of your moral responsibility. The same sanctions apply to both an unintentional act of plagiarism and a deliberate one.

For more on citing your sources, visit the CF Library's Citation Basics guide.

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