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1. What’s protected by copyright and what isn’t?

The U.S. Copyright Office says that copyright “protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture.”

Copyright does not protect “facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation,” although it may protect the way these things are expressed. The fact that the war in 1812 started in 1812 is not copyrighted, but a specific article or paper analyzing the war could be.

Anything published, recorded or filmed prior to 1923 is no longer covered by its original copyright.

2. What does someone have to do to protect a work with copyright?

Create something. Original works are protected by copyright automatically, once they are created and put in tangible form. You don’t need to register them with the U.S. Copyright Office, but you can if you want a public record of your ownership of the copyright to exist. A copyright mark © is not required.

3. What is ‘Fair Use’ and how does it protect the right to use certain copyrighted material?

In an educational setting, “Fair Use” often permits students or educators to use portions of someone else’s copyrighted work without getting permission. For example, if you were to use a copyrighted image in a student project, that would be OK but if you posted it to a public website, it might not be OK. Ethics, courtesy and academic integrity and policies may further impact what you can use and your responsibility to credit your source.

4. Are there copyright-free resources that students and educators can use?

Yes, there are many sources of images, videos, audio recordings and even text that can be used by nearly anyone. Instead of a traditional copyright, some material is covered by a Creative Commons license that grants users permission to use that material. Be sure to pay attention to the terms associated with a particular piece of content that dictate whether it can be modified, used in a commercial setting or attribution is required. You can find sources for Creative Commons and other available material at

5. What should students know about copyright?

Students should know that copyrights may, in some cases, restrict how they can use material that others have created. They should also know that copyright can also protect their own creations. Any discussion of copyright should be in the context of creativity, academic integrity and fairness. Students should understand when copyright may not apply as well as alternatives to copyright such as Creative Commons. Students should also understand how fair use does and does not apply.

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