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Citing Sources: Copyright

Learn about plagiarism, copyright, fair use, and how to cite sources using APA and MLA citation formats.

Copyright: What Is It and Why Does It Matter To You

Have you ever downloaded music, movies, or books? With the digital age, copyright law and copyright infringement applies to you more than ever!  Teens and adults do get sued for violating copyright, and it can cost a person a lot of money.

What is copyright?

  • It is a form of legal protection automatically provided to the authors of “original works of authorship.” This includes literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works.

How does copyright protected an owner's work?

U.S. copyright law generally gives the author/creator or owner of an original creative work an exclusive right to:

  • Reproduce (copy) or distribute the original work to the public (e.g., create and sell copies of a film)
  • Create new works based upon the original work (e.g., make a movie based on a book)
  • Perform or display the work publicly (e.g., perform a play)
  • Gives the owner the right to say who can and cannot use their works

How does copyright affect you?

  • If you violate copyright laws, you can be sued by the copyright owner, and you may have pay a large fine. Copyright also allows you to control and protect your own creations.

Test your copyright knowledge by taking this Copyright Quiz.

What types of works are protected by copyright?

  • Literary works
  • Music and lyrics
  • Dramatic works (plays)
  • Choreographic works
  • Graphics, photographs, paintings, and sculptural works
  • Motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • Video games and computer programs
  • Audio recordings
  • Architectural works

What types of works are not protected by copyright?

  • Works that have not been recorded in a tangible (real), fixed form (have not been recorded or put down on paper)
  • Works in the public domain
  • Names, titles, slogans, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; numbers
  • Ideas that have not been put into a tangible medium of expression (written down, drawn, recorded, etc.)
  • Facts
  • Processes and systems (e.g., the Dewey decimal system)
  • Federal government works (laws, pictures, videos, images)


Things to Consider Before Using Someone Else's Work

  • If you did not create the original, then assume the material is copyrighted.
  • If your use of copyrighted material will result in profit, distribution, or personal gain, always get permission from the copyright holder.
  • If the work is not being recreated or used outside school, and if you follow the fair use guidelines you should be safe. You should still cited the original resource in your project.
  • Beware: If you put school projects online (YouTube, etc.), it then it becomes a public performance and may violate copyright law.
  • Always give credit to the original copyright holder
  • If you want to use copyrighted material, simply ask the copyright holder for permission.

Creative Commons Licensing

Copyright and Fair Use

Is What You Want To Use Covered by U.S. Copyright?

Where to Find Copyright Free Material

The following websites offer copyright free images and music which can be incorporated into school projects. It is important to read the information on a webpage or website to see if the images can be used in your project.  Just because the website says it is "free" does not mean the image is "copyright free."