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Copyright: Information for students

An important reminder

You are responsible for making sure that all the materials you use comply with copyright law.

Assume that these materials are protected by copyright unless you can determine with confidence that they are not. 

Avoiding plagiarism

The Oxford English Dictionary defines plagiarism as "[t]he practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own" 

You're plagiarizing when you: 

  • Copy, quote, paraphrase or summarize any source without citing the source 
  • Purchase a research paper 
  • Allow another person to write a research paper for you
  • Submit another person's work in your name

​To avoid plagiarism, give credit whenever you use:

  • another person’s idea, opinion, or theory
  • any piece of information that is not common knowledge
  • another person’s actual spoken or written words
  • paraphrase of another person’s spoken or written words


Citing help

Style guides

Copyright friendly uses

The following uses are not infringements on copyright:

  • Linking to items made legally available on the web 
  • Using:
    • self-authored published and unpublished works for which you own the copyright
    •  works in the Public Domain
    • U.S. Federal government publications
    • open access works
    • Creative Commons works licensed with distribution rights
    • content that falls under the fair use provision of the U.S. Copyright Act
    • freeware (software, application or program that may be downloaded, used and shared without restriction)

For more information, see the Copyright friendly resources tab.

Your author rights as a student

  • Students have the same rights as any other creator.  Any work that you have created for a class or otherwise and that is covered under the copyright law is protected immediately and automatically by copyright (See What is protected by copyright)
  • You own copyright to your works, unless:
    • you have done the work on someone else's behalf
      ("work for hire")
    • you have transferred copyright to someone else
      (e.g., to a publisher)
  • Due to the above, much of your schoolwork is protected by copyright that you own.

The classroom use exemption

According to the U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, Chapter 1, § 110), known as the classroom exemption, the following uses are NOT infringements of copyright: 

"performance or display of a work by instructors or pupils in the course of face-to-face teaching activities of a nonprofit educational institution, in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction, unless, in the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, the performance, or the display of individual images, is given by means of a copy that was not lawfully made under this title, and that the person responsible for the performance knew or had reason to believe was not lawfully made." 

​The classroom use exemption is limited to face-to-face instruction and does NOT apply to online instruction or to instruction provided through a course delivery system, such as Canvas.  You may choose to rely on fair use or TEACH Act for these uses.

Using images and media

Copyright protects digital items just as it does non-digital ones. However, in the digital environment it can be very difficult to see what copyright or license applies and even more difficult to track down a creator to ask for permission.

So what can you do?

  • Use images and media with stated licenses.
    This includes Creative Commons and public domain works which are usually clearly labeled so that you understand what you need to do to edit or reuse them.
  • See if your use qualifies as fair use or a subject to the classroom use exception
    You will still need to provide citation information to give proper credit to your sources.
  • Create your own images or media.
    Thanks to technology, creating your own images and media is easier than ever before. 
  • Purchase the rights to use images or media.
    There are many sites where you can pay to be able to use images, videos, etc. We recommend pursuing the other three options first!

​(The original content created by the Butler University Libraries (CC BY)
and modified by the Salisbury University Libraries)