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ERAU Hunt Library

Understanding Copyright

Permissions and Use

Requesting permission

There are legal exceptions that allow some uses of copyrighted material without permission (see Fair Use or Copyright Law sections).  For uses that fall outside of these exceptions, you may want to seek permission from the copyright holder.

How to request permission:

1. Determine if you need permission: Is the work under copyright?  If the work is in the Public Domain you do not need permission.  Is your use already covered by a legal exception?

2. Find the copyright holder: To request permission, you need to know who holds the copyright.  This may be the creator, their family, or an agent such as a publishing company.

3. Determine your needs: When asking for permission you want to be as specific as possible.  Knowing details like how much of the work will be used, how many people will see it, and where it will be used can make a difference in getting permission and the cost to use the work.

4. Contact the copyright holder or their agent: You can do this directly through a letter detailing your request, or through a licensing service like the Copyright Clearance Center where you can directly pay for your use. You can negotiate a payment to use the work (usually called a license) or any other terms for use.

5. Keep your paperwork: If you are granted permission, get permission and terms of use in writing.  If you are unable to locate the copyright holder, keep notes of your search to prove a good faith effort to find them.

Portions of this section are adapted from "The Basics of Getting Permission" by Rich Stim, Stanford university Libraries (CC-BY-NC 3.0 US).

Public domain

The public domain refers to works that are not restricted by copyright and do not require a license or fee to use.  There are no restrictions on how you use public domain works.

There are three main types of public domain works:

  • Works where the copyright has expired. 
  • Works put into the public domain by their creators.  Usually this is done with a CC0 license or "No Rights Reserved" statement.
  • Works that were never under copyright, such as:
    • Ideas, facts, and numbers
    • Processes and systems
    • US Federal government works 
    • Titles, names, slogans, and familiar symbols (although these may be protected under patent or trademarks)

How to determine if copyright is expired

Copyright protection has changed over time, so when and how the work was published will determine if it is protected by copyright.  In general, these works are in the public domain:

  • All works published in the U.S. before 1924.
  • All works published with a copyright notice from 1924 through 1963 without copyright renewal.
  • All works published without a copyright notice from 1924 through 1977.
  • All works published without a copyright notice from 1978 through March 1, 1989, and without subsequent registration within 5 years.

There are several online tools that can help determine if a work is still in copyright:

Portions of this section are adapted from "Teaching Copyright" from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (CC-BY 3.0).

Creative Commons (CC) licenses

Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that aims to make creative work easy and free to use legally.  Creators put Creative Commons licenses on their work to make it clear what you can and cannot do with their work.  CC licenses are free for creators to use, and have been applied to over 1.6 billion works.

Creative Commons does not replace copyright but compliments it.  Copyright owners keep their rights but give you permission to use their work in certain ways. Unlike most licenses, Creative Commons allows for fair use and other legal exemptions.  If you want to do something that the CC license (or fair use) doesn't allow, you can still ask for permission from the owner.

The Licenses

There are seven CC licenses: six "core" licenses and a public domain license.  The main licenses are all a combination of four conditions:

  • Attribution: You must give credit to the creator of the work.  When giving credit you should give the title, author, source, and license (known as the TASL framework).  For examples and more information, see Creative Commons' best practices for attribution.
  • NonCommerical: You may use the work for any purpose except to make a profit or gain commercial advantage.
  • ShareAlike: If you change or modify the original work, you must distribute the new work under the same terms.
  • NoDeriviatives: You can copy, distribute, display, or perform the work, but you cannot make changes to it.

Icon          Name Abbreviation Explanation
Icon for CC-BY Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license Attribution CC - BY

You have to give credit.

You can copy, distribute, display, perform, and modify however you want.

Icon for CC BY SA Creative Commons Attritubtion Share Alike 4.0 License Attribution - ShareAlike CC-BY-SA

You have to give credit.

You can copy, distribute, display, perform, and modify the work. 

Any new works you create by changing this work must be shared under the same license or a license with the same terms.

Icon for CC BY ND Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives 4.0 License Attribution - NoDerivatives CC-BY-ND

You have to give credit.

You can copy, distribute, display, and perform the work.

You cannot make changes to this work.

Icon for CC BY NC Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial 4.0 License Attribution - NonCommerical CC-BY-NC

You have to give credit.

You can copy, distribute, display, perform, and modify the work as long as you are not making a profit or gaining a commercial advantage.

Icon for CC BY NC SA Creative Commons Attribution NonCommerical Share Alike 4.0 License Attribution - NonCommerical - ShareAlike CC-BY-NC-SA

You have to give credit.

You can copy, distribute, display, perform, and modify the work as long as you are not making a profit or gaining a commercial advantage.

Any new works you create must be shared under the same license or a license with the same terms.

Icon for CC BY NC ND Creative Commons Attribution Noncommerical No Derivatives 4.0 license Attribution - NonCommerical - NoDerivatives CC-BY-NC-ND

You have to give credit.

You can copy, distribute, display, and perform the work as long as you are not making a profit or gaining a commercial advantage.

You cannot make changes to this work.

Icon for Creative Commons Zero Public Domain license Creative Commons Zero CC0

The creator is putting the work into the public domain. 

No credit is required.

You can use it in any way you want.

How to find CC licensed work

Many of your favorite search sites already filter for CC licenses or usage rights under their "Advanced Search" features. You may also find license information near images, attached to documents, or at the bottom or side of webpages.  Look for CC icons or statements.

Our Open Educational Resources Guide also has information on finding openly licensed work.