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Copyright: Copyright for Students

The Basics

Basics of Copyright

Original, creative works that are "fixed in a tangible medium of expression" are automatically granted protection by copyright.  This includes books and journal articles, as well as lyrics written on a napkin, a poem composed on a scrap of paper, a new song recorded on YouTube, a video of original dance choreography.  In order, to be considered "fixed" the new original work has to be recorded by the author, written on paper, or saved as a computer file.

Copyright is many faceted and can be confusing.  In order to stay safe, always consider the material you want to use as having copyright until you are able to prove that it does not have copyright.  Review the Copyright Basics tab for more information on copyright.  Also, remember this guide is not intended to act as legal advice, it is only intended to provide you with information in order to assist you in making an informed decision. 

Plagiarism vs. Copyright Infringement

In completing class assignments, it is understood that students will build on previous research and scholarship, but it is important to do so in an legal and ethical manner.  Which means that you need to consider both plagiarism and copyright infringement.

Plagiarism refer to using someone else's work or ideas without giving proper credit.  It is an ethical and academic integrity issue. 

Copyright infringement is the unauthorized copying of someone else's work.  It is a legal issue. 

Copyright and New Works

Copyright protection is automatic and it is not necessary to register for copyright or to use the © symbol.  However, if you are interested in pursing copyright registration you can find information on the Copyright Registration Portal

In general, the creator/author of the work is the copyright holder, except in the case of works made for hire

The copyright holder can grant others permission to use their work, they can also apply a Creative Commons License to their work allowing others to use their work without having to receive permission.  Creative Commons Licenses allow the copyright holder to choose the terms by which others can use their work.  All Creative Commons Licenses require the user to provide attribution. 

Copyright and Academics

Assignments are specifically designed with the idea of expanding on existing research and students creating their own original work.  In general, students do not need to be concerned about copyright infringement for class assignments or live presentations as they would fall under the Fair Use Guidelines.  However, you should always provide a citation for any type of resource that you quote, paraphrase, or use.  This includes not just text, but also images, video clips, and music. 

Copyright and Conference Presentations, Academic Publications, or Thesis/Dissertation

When you publish a work or otherwise make it publicly available, there are additional copyright considerations.  If the work includes copyrighted materials there are also additional copyright considerations. 

In addition to citing your sources in order to avoid plagiarism, you will also need to do one of the following, if the use of copyrighted works falls outside of the Fair Use Guidelines:

  • Link to or otherwise reference the work, without embedding it in the assignment.
  • Replace the material with something that is either in the public domain, has a Creative Commons License, or otherwise clearly gives permission for the intended use. 
  • Seek permission from the copyright holder to use the material. 
Images and other Audiovisual Materials

When possible, use images and audiovisual material that is licensed with a Creative Commons License or that is in the public domain.  These resources are generally free to use.  Whenever possible, avoid using images and audiovisual materials that are protected by copyright.  If the material is protected by copyright, you will need to obtain permission in order to use it in your work. 

Tables and Graphs

While facts are not protected by copyright, the displaying of facts is protected under copyright, because the way that a table or graph is displayed is considered creative.  So when possible take the facts and display them in a new original table or graph and be sure to cite the original source and label the table or graph as "Adapted from [resource]".

Testing Instrument and Survey

If you are using a testing instrument or survey from another resource, you should request permission to use the item and you will need to be specific about how you will be using it.  Permission to use and permission to publish are two different things.  If you are only referencing the item providing a citation should be all you need to do.  If permission is granted you will need to note that with the work.  For example, if you obtained permission via email, include the email string as an appendix.

Copyright on the Internet