Skip to Main Content

University Library

GEP 110

A guide to help you get started on your research project.


Why Copyright?

  • It's the law
  • It's the right thing to do
  • It gives you rights as well as obligations

What's covered?

What Is Covered by Copyright

In the beginning, copyright law was intended to cover only books. During the 19th century, the law was expanded to include maps, charts, engravings, prints, musical compositions, dramatic works, photographs, paintings, drawings, and sculptures. Motion pictures, computer programs, sound recordings, dance, and architectural works became protected by copyright during the 20th century. Copyright protections fall under Title 17 of the United States Code and covers "original works of authorship." So what makes a work original?

  1. Fixity: not the idea but the fixed expression or the manifestation of the idea
  2. Originality
  3. Minimal creativity

What's not covered?

What Is NOT Covered by Copyright

  • Works for which the copyright has expired
  • Works that federal government employees produced within the scope of their employment
  • Works clearly and explicitly donated to the public domain
  • Works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression (for example, choreographic works that have not been notated or recorded, or spontaneous speeches or performances that have not been written or recorded)
  • Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring; mere listings of ingredients or contents
  • Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration
  • Works consisting entirely of information that is common property and contains no original authorship (for example, standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures and rulers, and lists or tables taken from public documents or other common sources)

Images and Copyright

Just because a image is online and easily accessible does not mean it's in the public domain. Images can still be protected by copyright, even if a creator or © is not clearly stated.

There are many ways to find images that you can use without worrying about copyright restrictions:

Find and use images with a Creative Commons license, which provide a simple, standardized way to give the public permission to share and use creative work — on conditions of the creator's choice. 

Use images under the Fair Use provision.   Copyright law allows for the use of copyrighted works under some specific circumstances and for particular purposes such as criticism, comment, scholarship, or research. Fair use is determined by the following four factors (from Chapter 1, Section 107 of the Copyright Law):

  • the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  • the nature of the copyrighted work
  • the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  • the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

Use Images that are in the Public Domain. When a work is not covered by copyright (because the copyright term has expired, the creator has released the work, or the work was never copyrighted) it is in the public domain and can be used freely.

Use Images from Subscription Databases.  The SSU Library subscribes to several image databases, such as Artstor. Most of these images are licensed for academic work only and may not be used on open websites. They can, however be used for class projects, Moodle pages, and in some cases, academic publishing.

Many databases and web sites provide information about how their images can be used. Usage guidelines can vary considerably, so be alert to differences and details.