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Information on copyright, public domain, and exceptions such as fair use and face-to-face instruction.

Introduction to Copyright

What is copyright? Copyright is a way for authors, artists, and other creators to protect their original works. It is a form of intellectual property, which also includes patents and trademarks. Intellectual property is just a fancy way to say that ideas matter, and any physical thing you create from those ideas is YOURS. 

Copyright motivates artists to keep creating, knowing that they can earn financial rewards, recognition, or other incentives for the creativity that comes from their mind. However, there are MANY exceptions to copyright. This allows other people to use creative works, within set parameters, so ideas can spread and many people can benefit from one person's creativity. This fosters more creativity and more ideas!

Copyright is a law in the United States. There have been many court cases that helped decide, inform, and shape copyright law. This Guide provides a starting point to help you understand copyright and some of the most important exceptions, but it is not legal advice. 


  1. Always cite your sources, even if you are claiming fair use or using material in the public domain.
  2. Any form in which data can be recorded is protected by copyright law: statues, diaries, phone apps, videos, class notes. Copyright is technology-neutral. The format of a writing or recording doesn't matter, copyright protection still applies.
  3. There is a difference between "I am legally allowed to use this material" and "I don't think I'll get caught".
  4. When in doubt, ask!