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Copyright and media use and reuse
U.S. copyright law gives a creator exclusive rights to use and reuse their creations and to authorize others to use their creations. Any individual can write text, create artwork or other images, compose and perform music or other sounds, write computer code, or create any other original content. A creator can also be a corporation.
Royalty-free, or RF, refers to copyrighted media or intellectual property that does not require ongoing royalty or licensing fee payments; instead, you may pay a one-time fee in order to use the media multiple times. There may be a limit as to the number of times you can reuse the media. RF licenses are not exclusive, so others may purchase and use the same media as you.
Alternatives to copyright
Copyright is automatic but is not the only way to manage original works. Content can be released into the public domain for everyone to use. Works may also be made available under a legal license other than copyright. The Creative Commons organization has written legal licenses that allow reuse of content less restrictive than copyright, for example, specificying that all reuse of content is permitted as long as the original author is credited. These licenses were originally created under U.S. law but are being rewritten in countries all over the world.
Alternatives are sometimes called "copyleft."
Section 107 of the copyright law covers the doctrine of fair use. Fair use permits limited use of copyrighted material without obtaining the copyright holder's permission for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research.
Fair use generally applies to work done for nonprofit educational purposes. However, student websites that are freely available online may not be covered by fair use, especially if the assignment or class the work was done for is over and the website remains online.
Fair use is complicated. Stanford University Libraries provide a good overview. The Center for Media and Social Impact has several publications on fair use best practices.
These sites and documents will help you understand copyright law in the United States.
Definition and brief info. Verify info elsewhere.
Copyright on campus (video)
Brief intro to copyright in higher education. From the Copyright Clearance Center.
Fair Use infographic
From the Harvard University Office of Scholarly Communications.
U.S. Copyright Office
Lots of great documents explaining copyright.
Association of Research Libraries: The Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries
"A code of best practices in fair use devised specifically by and for the academic and research library community." Thirty-four page document from January 2012.
College Art Association, Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts
"Copyright protects artworks of all kinds, audiovisual materials,
photographs, and texts (among other things) against unauthorized use by
others, but it is subject to a number of exceptions designed to assure space for
future creativity. Of these, fair use is the most important and the most flexible.
The Code describes common situations in which there is a consensus within the
visual arts community about practices to which this copyright doctrine should
apply and provides a practical and reliable way of applying it."
Center for Media and Social Impact, Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video
This document is a code of best practices that helps creators, online providers, copyright holders, and others interested in the making of online video interpret the copyright doctrine of fair use. Fair use is the right to use copyrighted material without permission or payment under some circumstances.