Angelo & Jennette Volpe Library

Copyright Basics

For the copyright and plagiarism tutorials and quiz, visit this link.

The Basics

No matter what, always cite everything you did not create!

Copyright gives authors control over their works for a limited time.  This control covers copying, publishing, distributing, derivative works, performances, and format changes (like digitizing).

Copyright happens automatically when a qualified work is created.  Copyright does not depend on registration with the copyright office or the copyright symbol (©).  Just because it doesn't have the © after it doesn't mean it isn't copyright protected.

There are four types of works you can use that do not require any judgment calls or extra work on your part but all require citations:

1. Use things freely available online

  • link to the item so when it is no longer available, the link is broken; do not download and upload
  • they are already free for anyone to view, you're just linking to it

2. Use things freely available to the Tennessee Tech community

  • example: article from a library database
  • link to the item so when it is no longer available, the link is broken; do not download and upload
  • already free for anybody with a TN Tech username to view, you're just linking to it
  • if a non-Tennessee Tech person tries to access the link, they will not be able to log in and view it

3. Use things in the public domain

4. Use Creative Commons (CC) or other permission sites

  • copyright owners post their works and visibly give permission to use
  • follow the instructions and guidelines closely

Fair Use 

If the copyrighted material you want to use doesn't fit in one of the four easy categories above, you have two options:

1. Get permission from the copyright owner.  If you get permission from them to use their work, that is the best way to ensure you can legally use it.  Some helpful hints:

  • obtain permission via email so you have documented proof
  • describe how you will use it, then use it only as described
  • plan in advance because obtaining permission can take weeks or months

2. Determine if it falls under "fair use."  Fair use is not an excuse for all university-related uses!  It is a judgment call, which often makes it difficult to decide.  More information on fair use is available from the U.S. Copyright Office. Four principles are considered in fair use:

  • the purpose of the use
  • the nature of the copyrighted material
  • the amount and importance of the portion in relation to the work as a whole
  • the effect upon the market

Use the Fair Use Checklist to help you decide and to keep as evidence that you made an effort to evaluate its fair use. The U.S. Copyright Act says that faculty members of an accredited, non-profit educational institution are immune from damages resulting for an infringement if you have made a good faith effort to determine whether a use is “fair” under the copyright laws; keeping the completed checklist will show that good faith effort.

Music & Copyright

If you want to use music for a course assignment, fair use allows you to do so without restrictions as long as the assignment is not published online outside of iLearn.  You can use music in a class presentation as well, provided that a video of the presentation is not published online outside of iLearn.  

Below is a list of music that you can use for any reason:

  • music freely available online (it's already freely available so you're not offering additional access)
  • music not copyright protected (in the public domain, usually because the copyright has expired)
  • music you have obtained the copyright owner's permission to use (use it only as the owner says you can)
  • music you created (you own the copyright, so you can give yourself permission)
  • music with clear guidelines of use, and your use falls within those guidelines (usually found on permission sites like Creative Commons)

The key with ALL music is you MUST give credit to the creator/owner. 

Need Additional Help?

If you have copyright questions, contact Sharon Holderman

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