Skip to Main Content
Skidmore College main website

Lucy Scribner Library

Scholarly Communication: Copyright Basics


What is copyright?

Copyright is a form of protection provided to "original works of authorship" such as musical, literary, artistic, or dramatic works. This allows the owner of the copyrighted material to:

  1. Reproduce copies of the work.
  2. Prepare derivative works based on the copyrighted work.
  3. Distribute copies of the work by sale, rental, lease or lending.
  4. Publicly perform the work.
  5. Publicly display the work.
  6. Publicly perform copyrighted sound recordings by means of a digital audio transmission.

What is protected by copyright?

Copyright protects "original works of authorship" that are fixed in a tangible form of expression. Use of the following categories of works without permission of the copyright holder will be in violation copyright law and of this policy statement.

  1. literary works;
  2. musical works, including any accompanying words
  3. dramatic works, including any accompanying music
  4. pantomimes and choreographic works
  5. pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  6. motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  7. sound recordings
  8. architectural works

More copyright resources

U.S. Copyright Office
The United States Copyright Office, and the position of Register of Copyrights, were created by Congress in 1897. The Register directs the Copyright Office as a separate federal department within the Library of Congress, under the general oversight of the Librarian, pursuant to specific statutory authorities set forth in the United States Copyright Act.

Copyright Law of the United States

Stanford University Copyright and Fair Use
Its emphasis is on copyright issues especially relevant to the education and library community, including examples of fair use and policies. Useful copyright charts and tools are continually added to help users evaluate copyright status and best practices.

Copyright Crash Course
The Copyright Crash Course was created by Georgia Harper and is currently maintained by UT Libraries. The Course is arranged into several sections that allow users to explore certain areas of copyright law individually or as a group.

Use this site to find a summary of permissions that are normally given as part of each publisher's copyright transfer agreement.

More resources on evaluating the copyright status of a work:

Skidmore Intellectual Property Guidelines

Getting Started

Want to use a work that might be copyrighted?

First, you need to determine if the work is:

  • in the Public Domain or
  • still Copyrighted?

Use this Digital Copyright Slider to help determine the copyright status of a work.

If the work is in the Public Domain,

-- Cite the work properly.

What is the Public Domain?

Works that are no longer protected by copyright are within the public domain and can be used without permission or reimbursement.  An author can also choose to place their works in the public domain, foregoing copyright protection.

Resources on how to cite: Cite My Sources LibGuides

If the work is Copyrighted,

-- Determine whether your use is a "Fair Use".

What is "Fair Use"?

The idea of fair use is that it allows exceptions of copyright for the good of society.  It's important to note that these are guidelines and not set laws, which means you can only use fair use as a legal defense and not a way to avoid being sued for copyright infringement.

To determine if your use is a "Fair Use":

More about Fair Use: Fair Use LibGuides

Creative Commons

  You may see works designated with Creative Commons License (CC License) when using materials for your coursework. So, what is Creative Commons license? what can you do with CC licensed content?

What is Creative Commons?
Creative Commons is a global nonprofit organization that enables sharing and reuse of creativity and knowledge through the provision of free legal tools.

Find out more at the Creative Commons Public Domian page.

Using Creative Commons Materials

The same principles apply to providing attribution across all CC licences. You should:

  • credit the creator;
  • provide the title of the work;
  • provide the URL where the work is hosted;
  • indicate the type of licence it is available under and provide a link to the licence (so others can find out the licence terms); and
  • keep intact any copyright notice associated with the work.

More about how to attribute authors:

Copyright and Fair Use Tutorial

Marta Brunner