"Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States to the authors of 'original works of authorship,' including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works" ( ).

copyright law is very complex

Assume that what you find on a website is copyrighted, unless you know its not based on the age of the item (created before 1922).

With the exception of works in the public domain, everything on the internet is copyrighted, whether its a web page, an image or an audio file

if you want to profit from someone else's work, you must get permission from the author or the creator

if you want to use part of someone else's work in a school assignment or pater, you generally can do so under the Fair Use exemption to copyright law

"Fair use" allows students and researchers to copy or use parts of other people's work for educational purposes

always give credit by citing the source of the material you are using

if you don't credit an author or source, you are guilty of plagiarism

The same basic rules that apply to using printed material apply to using material on the internet. This means you must cite the information.

Copyright - the Law and the Practice

  • the way the law in the U.S. is written, much of what we're likely to find on the Web is copyrighted material.
  • Copyright does not have to be claimed or asserted on a Web site.
  • Whenever a work such as text, audio, images, or video is given a from by being encoded as a file and then put on the Web, the person or entity that created it automatically holds the copyright.
  • There are exceptions such as items put into the public domain or items produced by the employees of the U.S. government.
  • The holder of the copyright on an item has the exclusive right to:
  1. make, sell, or distribute copies
  2. create new items based on the copyrighted item
  • These rights are arguably meant to provide some protection for the person who creates an item so that it is not misused or that any profits derived from the use, sale, or distribution go to the creator.
  • These rights continue for decades after the death of the original copyright holder.
  • Some say that copyright laws that give exclusive rights for a long period of time is too restrictive and limits ways we share our culture.
  • You need to determine what the copyright restrictions are on an item before you make a copy or modify any media that you've found on the Web.
  • This is true regardless of whether the site where you found the material contains any statements claiming copyright or how the material is used. If guidelines for using the material are present, follow them.
  • Most copyright statutes or conventions include a provision that makes it possible for individuals to copy portions of a document for short-term use. This is known as fair use, and it is what makes it possible for people to legally write reviews about copyrighted work, and for people to include some copyrighted work in materials that they produce for academic or scholarly purposes.
  • Some people use Creative Commons,, to set permissions for the ways their works may be used.
  • This has advantages for both the producer and the consumer.
  • A producer can set permissions - either very strict, very lax, or somewhere in between - for reuse of her items. This is done online, once, and easily.
  • A consumer readily finds the permissions associated with an item. For example, all of Wikipedia is under a Creative Commons license that allows for use if the use includes proper attribution and any item derived from the Wikipedia source is likewise shareable by others..
  • This is an example of using copyright to put information into the hands of others for sharing, remixing, and reusing.
  • The site Copyright and Fair Use in the Classroom, on the Internet, and the World Wide Web,, explains copyright issues and helps students and faculty determine if they can use information from the Internet.
  • For guidance on dealing with copyright issues in commercial settings, see A Guide to Copyright Compliance for Business Professionals,, produced by Copyright Clearance Center.

Copyright in a Web 2.0 Environment

  • Much of what you find on the Web and Internet can be saved in a file on your computer, which makes it easy to share and distribute to others.
  • Exchanging information was one of the main reasons the Internet began, and it is a desirable activity, but there is a drawback.
  • Free access to information makes it difficult to control unauthorized distribution of anything that's available.
  • Anyone with a Web browser can make and exact digital copy of information.
  • This is sometimes illegal.
  • Only the owners of information can grant the right to coy or duplicate materials. This is called copyright.
  • Some documents on the Internet contain a statement asserting the copyright and giving permission for distributing the document in an electronic form, provided it isn't sold or made part of some commercial product.
  • Regardless of whether a Web page is accompanied by a statement asserting copyright, it is still protected by the copyright laws of the United States, the Universal Copyright Convention, or the Berne Union.
  • Most copyright conventions or statutes include a provision that makes it possible for individuals to copy portions of a document for short-term use. This is known as fair use.
  • If information is obtainable on the Internet and there is no charge to access the information, it often can be shared in electronic form.
  • That certainly doesn't mean you can copy images or documents and make them available on the Internet, make copies and share them i a printed form, or distribute them to several people using email attachments.
  • Quite naturally, many people who create or provide material available on the Internet expect to get credit and/or be paid for their work.
  • Remember that anything available in electronic form on the Internet is a copyrighted work, and you need to treat it in the same way as a book, journal article, artwork, play, video, or a piece of recorded music.
  • Just because something is available on the Web doesn't mean that you may copy it.
  • You are allowed to copy the material for personal use, but in almost every case, you cannot use it for commercial purposes without written permission from the copyright holder.

Copyright Tutorial

Copyright Website

Copyright and Fair Use in the Classroom, on the Internet, and the World Wide Web

Copyright-Friendly Websites

Copyright-Friendly Images and Sound

Copyright and Fair Use

Copyright and Intellectual Property Rights

Digital Copyright, by the Center for Democracy and Technology


Barker, D, and Terry, C.D. (2009). Internet research. Boston, MA: Course Technology.

Hartman, K. and Ackerman, E. (2010). Searching and researching on the Internet and the World Wide Web. Sherwood, OR: Franklin, Beedle & Associates.

Hock, R. (2009). The extreme searcher's handbook: a guide for the serious searcher. Medford, NJ: CyberAge Books.

Waxer, B. M. and Baum, M. L. (2007). Copyright on the Internet. Boston, MA: Course Technology.