Copyright FAQ

Why can't I ...

  • copy a CD that I purchased?
  • put a company logo on my web page?
  • use a celebrity photo on my organization's posters?
  • do what I want with books, magazines, videos, CDs, or other things that I've bought? I'm not making any money from it!

Because the person or company that creates intellectual property (IP) owns it, even if you own the object that embodies it. Copyright law gives IP owners the right to control COPYING, ADAPTING, and PUBLIC DISPLAY OR PERFORMANCE.

Doesn't everybody copy MP3s?

All MP3 music audio files contain copyrighted material. Aside from clips that you are invited to download from promotional sites on the Web, most MP3s are not intended to be copied to your hard disk or sent to someone else without payment to the copyright owner. Soundbyting, a site with information supplied by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), is a good source of information from the perspective of the major companies that own copyrights on musical recordings.

What about "Fair Use"? After all, this is a college, and we're not making a profit!

Fair Use typically applies to curriculum-related intellectual property that is used by students and faculty in a particular course. But even for course work, copying a whole CD or video is not an acceptable alternative to buying an original.

Using someone else's intellectual property on a web site -- even a course-related web site -- usually can't be considered Fair Use because the potential audience is so large.

How can I tell when something is "Fair Use"?

Fair Use is determined by applying 4 FAIR USE FACTORS when you copy, adapt, show, perform, or transmit someone else's intellectual property.


Educational use is favorable when applying this factor.


Use of very creative works (such as images and music) is severely limited.


Smaller is usually better, but sometimes just a few seconds of a song, for example, can convey the heart of it. The whole of anything -- cartoon, poem, image -- would rarely be considered fair use except in a classroom setting.


When an item can be purchased, copying it has a clear market impact. But often the market impact is more subtle. Copyright owners, especially in the commercial sector, do not tolerate the theft of their text, images, music, etc.

* * * ALL 4 FACTORS COUNT * **

How can I get permission to copy the images, sounds and text that I want?

Contact the owner, and explain exactly how you intend to use it. Your web page, multimedia project, research paper, etc. should note that the item is copyright protected and used with permission. For example:

© 2003 XYZ Company
Used with permission

The best way to locate a corporate IP owner is to search the Library catalog for directories and phone numbers.

What about intellectual property that I create? How can I give it copyright protection?

Copyright protection exists the moment you complete your creation. You do not need a copyright notice (© 2003Your Name), but it's advisable to include it. Registration with the U.S. Government is not necessary for basic copyright protection. However, it does strengthen your position if you ever wish to litigate someone's misappropriation of your intellectual property.

Other useful copyright-related Web pages: