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This guide introduces the fundamentals of copyright for the purposes of teaching, writing, and publishing.

Copyright Protection

Copyright protections are applied to a specific set of works.  You will need to be granted permission before using the material in a way reserved for the copyright owner.

What types of works are protected by copyright?

  • Literary works
  • Music and lyrics
  • Dramatic works and music
  • Pantomimes and choreographic works
  • Photographs, graphics, paintings and sculptural works
  • Motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • Video games and computer software
  • Audio recordings
  • Architectural works

What is not protected by copyright?

  • Unfixed works that have not been recorded in a tangible, fixed form
  • Material passed into the public domain
  • Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans
  • Familiar symbols or designs
  • Ideas and facts
  • Processes and systems
  • Federal government works

Obtaining Permission

If you would like to use a copyrighted work, you will need to obtain permission or a license from the copyright owner.  The process should follow these general steps.

  1. Determine if permission is needed.
  2. Identify the owner.
  3. Identify the rights needed.
  4. Contact the owner and negotiate whether payment is required.
  5. Get your permission agreement in writing.

Determine if permission is needed

The first step is to determine if you need permission to reuse a copyrighted material.  You will need to assess if the material is protected under the law, and if your use will violate the law.

Failure of not getting permission where required may result in legal action by the copyright holder.

Works not protected by copyright laws or in public domain do not need permission for reuse.  Your use may fall under Fair Use, which would also allow you to reuse the work without gaining permission.

Identify the owner

This step is often simple, as you can locate the rights owner by looking for the copyright notice.

  • Books have this information in the very beginning, typically before the table of contents.  An example:

    Copyright © 2017 Jane Doe.
    All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” at the address below.

  • Music, film, and art may involve multiple owners, each with a separate right to the work.  You may need to get permission from the artist themselves, the record company, the music publisher, or an estate.
    The WATCH Database contains contacts for writers, artists, and prominent people in creative fields. 

  • Search the Public Copyright Catalog (1978 to present) to locate the copyright owner

  • Stanford's Copyright Renewal Database covers 1923 - 1963

Identify the rights you need

You must specify your intended use, such as using an image in a new publication or displaying a cartoon in a PowerPoint presentation.  You will also need to determine the length of time you are allowed to use the material, where you plan on reusing the material, and how you plan to distribute the material.

Contact the owner and negotiate whether payment is required

This step could be a simple email asking for permission or involve purchasing copyright permissions.  Copyright permissions can generally be purchased through the Copyright Clearance Center.

Copyright Clearance Center (CCC) is a U.S. company that provides collective copyright licensing services for corporate and academic users of copyrighted materials. At you can search for and obtain permission to use and share content from the world’s leading titles in science, technology, medicine, humanities, news, business, finance and more.

The ATSU Memorial Library has an account with the Copyright Clearance Center.  Please contact us ( or if you would like assistance with this resource.

Get your permission agreement in writing

To avoid future misunderstanding, make sure all copyright agreements are in writing.

Adapted from Stim, R. (2020).  The Basics of Getting Permission. Copyright & Fair Use.

How long does copyright protection last?

In general, works created on or after January 1st, 1978 have copyright protections for the life of the author, plus seventy years after the author's death.  If there are multiple authors, the term lasts for seventy years after the last surviving author's death.

Works for hire and anonymous or pseudonymous works: the duration of copyright is 95 years from the publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter.

Works created and not published or registered before January 1st, 1978: the copyright term is the same as works created on or after January 1st, 1978.  The term can not expire before December 31st, 2002.

Works created and published or registered before January 1st, 1978: copyright protections last for 28 years from the date of publication.  These works can be renewed for another 67 years, for a total protection length of 95 years. 

Once copyright protections expire, the work passes into the public domain.

If you need help identifying if a work is still protected by copyright, email

Copyright for Websites

Online Content is not automatically copyright free.

A common misconception is material found online (images, videos, online documentaries, etc) are free to use.  These items are still copyright protected and require you to seek permission before using them.  Even if the item lacks a copyright notice, it does not make it automatically in the public domain.

YouTube Videos

While the YouTube platform is free to access and use, this does not apply to the content.  You should also seek permission to reuse material in presentations.  Copyright permissions may be listed in the description or require you to contact the channel owner.

Copyright Notice

The majority of websites have a copyright notice on the bottom of the page.  Scroll to the very bottom, and look for a footnote of "Copyright © 2020 COPYRIGHT HOLDER, all rights reserved."

You may find a contact form or email address to use when requesting copyright permission.

Copyright Tools & Resources