Copyright Guide

Copyright matters

The term "copyright" quite literally means "the right to copy." It is intended to protect the intellectual property of creators for a specific period of time, so that they can earn money from their work and determine how their work is used. In this digital age, when making a copy takes just a click of a mouse or a tap of a finger, it is more important than ever to understand the restrictions and permissions of copyrighted work, including fair use, the public domain, and Creative Commons.

To help you learn about copyright matters, we’ve prepared this page of guidelines and information. Use it to inform your use of material in your class research and writing.


Copyright Guide

Almost all intellectual property is protected by copyright. The work must meet a minimum of creativity and be "fixed" in a tangible form. (In other words, in order for it to be protected by copyright, you need to be able to copy it. A hummed melody isn't copyrighted, but a recording of that hummed melody would be.) Processes, facts, and ideas are not subject to copyright.A set of instructions (such as a recipe), proven facts (2+2=4), and ideas in an intangible form cannot be copyrighted. For more information and specifics, see Works Not Protected by Copyright.

Copyright is automatic

A work does not need to have a copyright symbol (©) or announce that it is copyrighted to be eligible for copyright protections. A work does not need to be published either, as long as it exists in a tangible form. However, it can be easier to defend your copyright and for others who wish to get permission to use your work, if you register it with the United States Copyright Office.

The above information is provided by CCC with permission.

Duration of copyrighted works

Copyright lasts a LONG time. Generally, the length of protection falls into two categories: life of the author or works made for hire.

Life of the Author: Works are protected for the rest of the author's life, PLUS seventy years. If an author created a work in 1980, then died 40 years later in 2020, the work would enter the public domain and lose copyright protections in 2090.

Work for Hire: The copyright law Work for Hire Section 107 covers the work you do on the job. It states that any works or research created by an employee is the ownership of the employer. Since the employer has provided the means to develop and create the work, the end results, data and copyright to this information is retained by the employer, whereas the employee or researcher owns the intellectual property. For the complete law read this Work for Hire Copyright Guide.

Important note: Copyright rules change as the laws governing them change. Copyrights for works created prior to 1978 are different and extremely complex. This slider from the Copyright Advisory Network can help illustrate and clarify: (requires Flash)

More resources on basic copyright laws

The Maricopa Community Colleges District offers these guidelines on copyright basics.

You can find another good review of the topic from this resource put out by librarians at the University of Texas: Who Owns What? Copyright Crash Course

The United States Copyright Office offers more information on duration of copyright in this overview from

This is a concept embedded in U.S. law that recognizes certain uses of copyright-protected works do not require permission from the copyright holder or its agent. These include instances of minimal use that do not interfere with the copyright holder's exclusive rights to reproduce and reuse the work.

Fair Use is not an exception to copyright compliance — it is more of a "legal defense." That is, if you copy and share a copyright-protected work and the copyright holder claims copyright infringement, you may be able to assert a defense of Fair Use, which you would then have to prove.

Some great resources on Fair Use:

The above information is provided by CCC & GWCC librarians with permission.

Public Domain

This is material that has no copyright protection. Reasons include:

  • The term of copyright has expired
  • The author failed to meet the requirements to have the work protected
  • The work was created by the U.S. Government

For more information, visit the Maricopa Community Colleges District legal page on Public Domain.

Copyright terms

You can find a detailed table of copyright protection terms and Public Domain status at Cornell University’s Copyright Information Center: Public Domain by Cornell University Library

If you aren't sure if you have rights to an image, the following information gives you some guidelines, as well as resources for right’s-free content.

Online images

Material available on or through other websites (including Google Image Search) may be protected by copyright. Look for images in the Public Domain or Creative Commons, where the owners have granted permission for use.

Persistent linking

Follow this guide to add the CGCC Library’s eBook and streaming video content to your remote or online teaching: Adding Library Digital Content to Online Learning 2020.pdf

The rich content in the CGCC Library's databases include these additional features:

  • Public Performance Rights: Allowing you to show the film in online or face-to-face classes, or at a college-sponsored event, without violating copyright
  • Transcripts and Closed Captioning: Streaming videos/films that include transcripts and closed captioning. These are ADA-compliant accessibility tools required by MCCCD for media content used in instruction regardless of the modality.
  • Translate and Listen: Some database vendors include LISTEN and TRANSLATE tools for the HTML editions of the articles. These tools support English as a Second Language and students with audio learning preferences.

Images on the web

A treasure trove of images available for use without copyright infringement:

  • Art Images for College Teaching (AICT) An archive of image resources for and among members of the educational community.
  • Flickr Creative Commons A photo sharing website with images on just about any topic.
  • Life Photo Archive Copyrighted images from LIFE magazine, under Fair Use, may be used for educational purposes, just not any commercial use. Search millions of photographs from the archive from the 1750s to today.
  • Life, Your World in Pictures Another resource to find LIFE pictures from Time & Getty Images, the two most recognized names in photography.
  • Morgue File Free images for creatives, by creatives.
  • NIGMS Image Gallery Searchable database of photos, illustrations, and videos from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Permission is granted to use these images for educational, news media, or research purposes, provided the source for each image is credited.
  • Pexels Free stock photos.
  • Wikimedia Commons A searchable database of close to 3 million free digital media files. Type your search term(s) in the search field, then click on a photo and scroll down to read the citation and copyright information.

Software licensing

An area of copyright law that governs what we can and cannot do with shared software:

  • Don’t Copy That 2, the official sequel to the classic original “Don’t Copy that Floppy”
  • SIIA, the homepage of the Software & Information Industry Association

Copyright tutorials

  • Copyright Crash Course Created by Georgia Harper and is currently maintained by UT Libraries. Great for Faculty.
  • Fair Use Checklist Widely used for many years to help educators, librarians, lawyers, and many other users of copyrighted works determine whether their activities are within the limits of fair use under U.S. copyright law (Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act).
  • Taking the Mystery Out Of Copyright Resource for K-12 teachers and organizations from the Library of Congress.
  • The Copyright Genie Consult the Copyright Genie by Michael Brewer & ALA office for Information Technology (2012)

Copyright tutorials

  • Copyright Clearance Center
  • Know Your Copy Rights A website resource for using copyrighted works in academic settings. We can find ways to determine need for Campus Outreach.
  • Maricopa Community College District Intellectual Property Website Nearly every form of tangible expression (books, drawings, software, etc.) is subject to some sort of copyright protection. This site offers legal and District-wide guidelines on copyright protection, including direction on when (under the Fair Use Doctrine) copyrighted materials may be duplicated.
  • The Original TEACH Act Toolkit TEACH was intended to update Section 110(2) of the copyright act to make it applicable to online digital courses. Thus, TEACH is not a separate or additional copyright law; it simply replaces an already existing section.

U.S. Copyright Office




Any works found on the Internet is "public domain"

All works found on the web are protected by copyright law. Exception is U.S. government publications


I can use an image from another work in my publication

Permission from the copyright holder should be obtained before using an image in another work.


If it doesn’t have a copyright notice, it’s not copyrighted.

Works created in the U.S. after April 1, 1989 do not require a copyright notice.


I can use any content from an email someone sent to me

Copyright of the content belongs to the sender and you should obtain permission from the sender before publishing the content.


I can make multiple copies of a single work as long as it is for classroom use.

Generally speaking, one copy may be allowable under Fair Use guidelines, but making multiple copies may exceed Fair Use.


If an item is out-of-print it is in the public domain.

An item may be out-of-print yet still copyrighted. Consult When Does Copyright Expire and the Work Enter the Public Domain to check whether an item is in the public domain.


As long as attribution is provided then it is ok to use part of a work for my research paper.

Attribution is not a substitute for seeking permission from the copyright holder.


Also see 10 Big Myths About Copyright Explained, by Brad Templeton (2008).

Copyright Guide

Monica Johnson, Library Faculty collaborated with the CTLA in the creation of this site. The information herein is not to substitute legal documents which can be found on and the Copyright Clearance Center but is rather a reference guide for general rules.