This guide on using public domain materials, Creative Commons licensed materials, and copyright law is provided for informational purposes only. I am not a lawyer and cannot provide legal advice. None of what you read in this tutorial should be construed as legal advice. Should you require legal advice, please contact an attorney.
This guide is based on a guide orginally created by Tammy Ravas, Visual and Performing Arts Librarian and Media Coordinator of the Mansfield Library at the The University of Montana. All errors are, of course, my own.
Are there materials I can freely use for my project?
So, you're looking for that perfect image, text excerpt, map, music score excerpt, photograph, movie, etc. for your project or publication. But you are worried about using copyrighted works in something that will not just be show in class or handed to your professor?
Consider using works in the public domain or works covered by a Creative Commons (CC) license.
- Public Domain works: You do not need to request permission or pay a license fee to use these works; and, for the most part, you can use these works in any way you wish because they are not covered by copyright law.
- Creative Commons licensed (CC) works- creators of these works allow certain uses under terms of a license-- some of which may be more compatible with academic projects. The uses allowed by the CC license typically do not require you to request permission or pay a license fee.
This guide will cover five main points in regards to the basics of finding and using materials in the public domain as well as those covered by Creative Commons licenses for academic projects:
(1) introduction to the public domain and to Creative Commons materials;
(2) how to tell if a work is in the public domain or covered by a Creative Commons license;
(3) sources to search for public domain and Creative Commons licensed works;
(4) a few potential problems with using public domain and/or Creative Commons licensed material; and
(5) sources for learning more about the public domain and Creative Commons licensed works.
A more comprehensive approach to public domain and CC materials can be found in many of the sources cited in this tutorial. The intent of this tutorial is to provide you with basic information to begin using public domain and CC materials.
Click on the tabs above to learn more about Public Domain and Creative Commons works.
If the material you wish to use is not in the public domain or covered by a Creative Commons license, you may also have some options under the copyright law to use copyrighted material without requesting permission including:
- Fair Use (Section 107 of the copyright law)
- Section 110 of the copyright law (includes 110 (1) and the TEACH Act, 110 (2))
These copyright law exceptions to authors' exclusive rights have their limitations though. If your uses fall outside of these limitations, you need to seek permission of the copyright owner in order to use the material in your project.