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Copyright & Fair Use

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Creativity is essential for civilizations to thrive, and protecting the rights of creators provides a safer environment for developing and expressing new ideas. Copyright laws allow you to create freely and know that your work is automatically protected, from the moment it is created, against unauthorized use. [Learn more at the Library of Congress or download and read the Copyright Basics PDF link below.]


The simplest way to know it is okay to use someone's work is to ask them for permission. However, there are times when you may use someone else's work without seeking their permission. Items you find on government Web sites and that are in the public domain are two common examples. In some circumstances you may also be able to legally use copyrighted material without the copyright holder's permission, as long as the way you use it meets fair use guidelines. However, many people misunderstand what constitutes fair use, so be careful. [See the links below for documents on best practices in fair use and to access an American Library Association online tool that helps you determine if a work is protected by copyright.]


Sometimes creators want to allow other creative people like you to use their work without having to seek their permission. Creative Commons provides an easy way for creators to let others know how their work can be used. Learn more about how Creative Commons licenses work, read FAQs about Creative Commons, or search for images, music and videos with Creative Commons licenses by visiting its Web site and by watching the linked videos in the sidebar. Be sure to follow the permitted uses as indicated by the Creative Commons license.



Web:  Creative Commons Search PageCreative Commons Search:
Search for photos, videos and music that have Creative Commons Licenses. 



Web: Jamendo SearchJamendo Music:
Use the advanced search feature to find music using Creative Commons licenses.




  •  — Nonprofit that provides classical music recordings available to the public for free, without copyright restrictions.
  • Partners in Rhyme — Links to Free MusicFree Sound Effects, and Free Stock Video. (Note: "Royalty Free" doesn't always mean "free" to use.) 
  • Free Sound Effects — Towards the bottom of the left column you'll find a short list of truly free sound effects. 
  • Digg CC Mixter — Clicking on "Search" drops down a menu that allows you to find music that is CC licensed. Look for license information on the right edge of the page. Here's Digg's link to Free Instrumental music.

Web: Creative Commons LicensesCreative Commons Licenses:
Learn about the variety of Creative Commons licenses available.



Web: Copyright Clearance CenterCopyright Clearance Center:
This Web site provides an excellent overview of the purpose, execptions and limitations of copyright.



Web:  Guide to Seeking Copyright PermissionA Guide to Music Clearances and Permissions:
This Web page explains how to seek permission to use copyrighted music.





Document: New Tools for SchoolsCreative Commons: A New Tool for Schools, by Howard Pitler

< Download PDF


Document: Fair Use Best PracticesCode of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video Best Practices in Fair Use, and Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education:  These publications will help you understand best practices for using copyrighted material in films, online videos and the classroom.

< Download PDFs


Copyright Basics

< Download PDF




RETN's "The Five Ws of Copyright" Handout:  This two-page document is an overview of RETN's copyright workshop and outlines five reasons copyright matters. It also provides information about Creative Commons and other valuable resources.

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Is it Protected by Copyright? – Digital Slider Tool:
This tool helps you determine if a work is in the "public domain."  CC Michael Brewer & ALA Office for Information Technology Policy

Web: Fair Use Evaluator ToolFair Use Evaluator:
This tool from the American Library Association will help you better understand how to determine the "fairness" of a use under the U.S. Copyright Code.  CC Michael Brewer & ALA Office for Information Technology Policy


Web: Purdue Fair UsePurdue University Fair-Use Guide:
This tool helps you evaluate whether your use meets the four-part test of fair use.



Web: CMSI Video ExamplesVideo Examples of Fair Use in Video:
The Center for Media & Social Impact shares links to videos experts think fall under fair-use guidelines.


Who is Hosting This? Fair Use Information:
This link explains fair use in detail and is part of a larger ultimate guide to copyright.