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Copyright and Fair Use

This guide provides resources and information about copyright and fair use.

Determining Copyright Status

A first step in any assessment should be to determine the copyright status of the work. Remember lack of a copyright notice does not mean a work is not protected by copyright. A work does not have to be registered (or even published) to be protected. 

To aid in your determination, you will need at least one of the following: 

  • Copyright or licensing information
  • Publication information (was the work published? When was it published?)
  • The birth/date death of the author
  • U.S. Copyright Office registration information

How To Find Copyright Information

Often, information on the copyright holder is readily available. Here are some places you can look: 

  • Articles: Rights and permissions information on the online article located on the journal's website*
  • Books: The front matter (first few pages before main text) 
  • Images: captions
  • Websites: permissions, copyright, or terms of use pages

You can also use the following resources: 

*For journal articles, the rights and permissions signed by the author(s) upon publication can be quite varied. Authors and co-authors may or may not have retained all aspects of copyright.  

Publication Dates

A work’s copyright status can depend on the publication date. Works published before certain dates may be in the public domain, depending on the publication date, whether they were published with notices, or if their registration was renewed. The handy slider tool below illustrates those situations. 

If a work is in the public domain, it is free for the public to use, without the need for permissions or exceptions. Works can be in the public domain if their copyright has expired, they never had copyright protection, or the author waived all copyright restrictions.

A work is likely to be in the public domain if it is one of the following: 

  • Published before 1923; 
  • Published prior to 1964, but the copyright was not renewed (*a requirement until 1978); or 
  •  Published prior to March 1, 1989, without a proper copyright notice 

More information can be found in the Public Domain tab of the Other Works section of the FAQ page of this guide. 


If you have questions about the copyright status of a work, or need assistance obtaining permissions, please contact the Copyright Librarian.  

Copyright Librarian

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Colby Cilento
Milner Library

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