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Copyright: Copyright for Students

This guide provides a brief introduction to copyright.

The Basics of Copyright

Original, creative works that are "fixed in a tangible medium of expression" are automatically protected by copyright. This includes books and journal articles, but it also includes lyrics written on a napkin, a poem written on a scrap piece of paper, a new song recorded on YouTube, or a video of original dance choreography. To be considered "fixed," the new original work must be recorded by the author, written on paper, or saved as a computer file.

Copyright can be confusing. To stay safe, always consider the item you want to use as having copyright until you can prove that it does not have copyright. Please review the Copyright Basics tab for basic information on copyright. If you have questions, please contact

Understanding Plagiarism and Copyright Infringement

It is understood that students will build on previous research and scholarship as part of their assignments, but it is important that they do so in an ethical and legal way. This requires them to consider both plagiarism and copyright infringement.

Plagiarism is using someone else’s work or ideas without giving proper credit. It is an issue of ethics and academic integrity

Copyright infringement is unauthorized copying of someone else’s work. It is a legal issue.

Applying Copyright to Class Assignments and Live Presentations

Many assignments are created with the premise of expanding on research and creating an original work by the student. 

  • Generally, students do not have to worry about copyright infringement for class assignments or live presentations because they are covered by the Fair Use Guidelines
  • Students should always provide a citation for any type of resource that they quote, paraphrase, or use in order to avoid plagiarism. This includes not just text but also images, video clips, and music. Students may find this short video on avoiding plagiarism to be helpful.

Applying Copyright to Conference Presentations, Academic Publications, or Theses/Dissertations

When a work that includes copyrighted materials is published or otherwise made publicly available, there are additional copyright considerations. Students can review the Copyright Basics tab for additional information.

In addition to citing their sources in order to avoid plagiarism, students will need to do one of the following if their use of copyrighted works falls outside of the Fair Use Guidelines:

  1. Link to or otherwise reference the work without embedding it in their assignment.

  2. Replace the material with something that is either in the public domain, has a Creative Commons license, or otherwise clearly gives permission for the intended use. 

  3. Seek permission from the copyright holder to use the material.

Images and Other Audiovisual Materials: Whenever possible, use images and other audiovisual materials from Creative Commons or the public domain. These resources are usually free to use. Try to avoid the use of images and audiovisual materials that are protected by copyright. If the material you want to use is protected by copyright, you will need to obtain permission to use it in the work. 

Tables and Graphs: Facts are not copyrightable but the displaying of the facts is under copyright. The way a table or graph is displayed is considered creative. Take the facts and display them in a new original table or graph. Make sure to cite the source and you can label the table or graph as "Adapted from [resource]".

Testing instrument or survey: If using a testing instrument or survey from another resource, you should seek permission to use the item and be specific on how you will be using it. Permission to use and permission to publish are not the same. If you are only referencing the item, citing the source should suffice. If permission is granted, it needs to be noted within the work. For example, if permission was granted by an email, include the email string as an appendix at the end of the work.

Applying Copyright to New Works

Copyright is automatic, and it is not necessary to register for copyright or use the © symbol. If you are interested in registering for copyright, please review the registration portal

In general, whoever creates a work is the copyright holder. (An exception would be works made for hire.) Authors of dissertations, theses, and projects in the graduate and honors programs own the copyright to their work. 

The copyright holder may grant permission to others who wish to use their work. They may also use a free Creative Commons license to allow others to use their work without asking for permission. A Creative Commons license allows the copyright holder to choose the terms by which others can use their works. All Creative Commons licenses require attribution to the author.  

Copyright on the Internet Video