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Wilmington College Copyright Resource Center

The Wilmington College Copyright Resource Center was created to provide a singular source for students, faculty, and staff to better understand copyright as it relates to federal law, Wilmington College institutional guidelines, and scholarship.  Please feel free to explore each area to learn more about copyright and how it applies to your work.  We are always eager to add to this site, so if you would like to contribute in anyway, please let us know.

These best practices are to help you avoid violating U.S. copyright law. The following advice can be applied to books, periodicals, documents on websites, videos, sound files, and other material.

Basic Principle

Assume everything is copyrighted and go from there. You might discover that it is not copyrighted, but it is always best to begin the process with that assumption to avoid infringement.

Using Materials for Research Purposes

You are permitted to make a copy in print or download a digital copy to store in your personal files. You are also permitted to save links to a document of your own creation or to use a citation management system like EndNote or Zotero.

What you are not permitted to do, is post links to digital copies on the web in a public space or print multiple copies to share with others. The goal is to keep copyrighted materials you have access to private and to not share them with the public.

Copyrighted Materials on YouTube and File Sharing Websites

Assume it's too good to be true is you are able to access copyrighted material online for free when it comes to materials like films, television shows, music, and books. Those files are probably being distributed illegally by someone who does not own the copyright.

For example, you might find a full copy of the film Talladega Nights accessible through YouTube, but it does not have a "buy or rent" option with prices. Instead, it's been uploaded through account called WillFerrellFan23 for free. You can assume it has been uploaded illegally.

Getting Permission:

The Basics of Getting Permission by Stanford University

It is possible to use copyrighted material as long as you get permission from the copyright owner. When getting permission, it is essential to confirm that you have appropriately identified the copyright owner and that they have the right to grant you a license for your intended use.

A non-exclusive license can be granted verbally, but the preferred method is in writing. When asking for permission, it is suggested to include the following information:

  • your details;
  • a description of the material that you plan to use;
  • what you plan to do with the material;
  • how long you wish to use the material; and
  • if the use is commercial or non-commercial in nature.
What is Copyright Law?
"Copyright is a form of protection provided by U.S. law to authors of 'original works of authorship' from the time the works are created in a fixed form" (United States Copyright Office, 2017, p. 1). This means that when a work is created and put on paper, video, audio or other tangible formats then the creater is entitled to certain rights and others are not allowed to use the work without direct permission from the creater/owner, or through an exception outlined by the United State Copyright Office.
United States Copyright Office (2017, September). Copyright basics. Retrieved from
What is covered by Copyright Law?

The following types of works are protected by copyright law:

  1. Novels, poems, and other literary works
  2. Musical compositions and lyrics
  3. Plays and other dramatic works
  4. Dance routines
  5. Paintings, sculptures, graphic design pieces, and other artwork
  6. Films, television shows, and other audiovisial works
  7. Architecture and blue prints
  8. Sound recordings such as audiobooks and original spoken word pieces
United States Copyright Office (2017, September). Copyright basics. Retrieved from
What is NOT covered by Copyright Law?

Not everything is protected by copyright. It's important to note that not only does a work need to be fixed in form, but the content must be original and creative. The following, according to the US Copyright Office, are not protected by copyright law:

  1. Ideas, concepts, procedures, etc.
  2. Any creative work not fixed in a tangible form like a speech. (You would need to write down your speech or record it in audio or video for it be copyrighted)
  3. Slogans and other short phrases
  4. Common symbols
  5. Lists of items or directories of people

You can read more about this topic here.


Who Owns the Copyright?


The initial owner of a copyrighted material is the creator. However, they don't always stay the owner of the copyright. Creators can waive their rights to ownership and give them to someone else. In fact many do, especially those who are looking to have their works published. 

Multiple Creators

If multiple authors create a work, they have joint ownership of the single work they created together. Multiple contributors to a larger work have ownership of their contribution, while the creator of the larger work retains the copyright of the collective work. For instance, the author of a piece in an anthology would hold the copyright for their individual contribution (as long as their rights were not voluntarily waived), but the editors of the anthology would own the copyright on the anthology itself. 

Work for Hire

"Works made for hire" are works created by an employee of a business for their job. They are creations done for the author's duties at work and that makes them an exception to the rule. In the case of these works, the copyright is not initially owned by the creator. Instead, the copyright is owned from the start by the business. You can read more about this topic here.

United States Copyright Office (2017, September). Copyright basics. Retrieved from
Author's Rights Under Law:

According to the United States Copyright Office (2017), the following rights are exclusive to copyright owners. Copyright owners have the right to:

  1. Make copies or reproductions of the work.
  2. Make derivitive works that are based on the original work.
  3. Distribute copies. (By selling them, giving them out, leasing them, etc.)
  4. Perform the work in public. (Via a live performance or by showing a video or audio version of a performance)
  5. Publicly display the work. (In part or the whole work.)

United States Copyright Office (2017, September). Copyright basics. Retrieved from

The resources below have been compiled here to support our faculty when it comes to answering questions relating to copyright and proper use of materials in the physical and online classroom.  These information resources are offered to supplement the existing Copyright and File Sharing Policy.  These links are curated from external sources for informational purposes, and do not constitute legal advice regarding matters of copyright or the use of intellectual property.  If you have specific questions that cannot be answered from the information found here, please contact us either by phone or e-mail.

University of Texas Libraries Copyright Crash Course

Proper attribution is to the Copyright Crash Course and Georgia Harper.
Copyright in the Classroom (iTunes or Podcast Listening Application Required)
CopyTalk Webinars

Student Copyright:

Students are indeed copyright owners. Papers and projects created by students for classes do not count as works for hire and do not belong to the school and cannot be used by others without the permission of the student. If a student is under the age of 18, however, the copyright is owned by their parents or guardians.

If an instructor wants to use a student's work as a example for others or for other reasons, it is the instructor's duty to ask the student for their permission. If the instructor does not ask for permission then they are infringing on the student's copyright.

Ferullo, D. L. (2014). Managing copyright in higher education: A guidebook. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Use of Multimedia by Student Organizations:

One of the rights that owners of copyright have is the right to perform the work in public. Performing a work in public doesn't just refer to a performance of something like a play or a concert performance. This also refers to actions such as playing a movie for a crowd at an event or playing a series of songs at a public function. That is considered copyright infringement because you are sharing the copyrighted material, in full, to a group of people in a public place without permission.

It should be noted that this doesn't apply to showing a film or playing music in your own residence. The difference can be assessed like this:

Legal use of material: Playing a movie on the television in your living room for yourself and a group of friends.

Illegal use of material: Playing a movie at a free event open to the public.

Illegal use of material: Playing a movie on the common room of a residence hall.

As you can see from the examples, a free event can still be subject to copyright infringement. It is undoubtedly infringement to commercially profit off of copyrighted material without permission, but taking the commercial use out of the equation does not make a difference when it comes to copyright infringement. You would still be violating copyright law.

How do you gain permission?

You can gain permission to perform copyrighted material in public by obtaining a license to do so. There are licensing companies that will provide you with the proper permissions and rights needed. If you are in a student organization that is looking to gain a performance license for an event, contact the Watson Library Director, Michael Wells (937.481.2346) for guidance on how to obtain permission.


How Creative Commons Licenses Work
Creative Commons licenses allow you to give members of the public limited permission to re-use, copy, distribute, and build upon your original works. Creative Commons copyright licenses and tools balance the traditional "all rights reserved" setting that copyright law creates. Creative Commons licenses do not "replace" your copyright, and do not limit your rights in any way.

Copyright. All rights reserved.

Under traditional copyright, no one may copy, re-use, build upon, or edit your work in any way without your explicit permission.

  Attribution (CC BY)

This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work (even commercially) provided that they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for broad dissemination and use of licensed materials.

  Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA)

This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as users credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.

 Attribution-NoDerivs (CC BY-ND)

This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and, in its entirety, with credit to you.

Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC)

This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially. New works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial. They do not have to license their derivative works on the same terms.

 Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA)

This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the same terms.

 Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND)

This license is the most restrictive of the Creative Commons licenses. It only allows others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can't change them in any way or use them commercially.

Openverse:  Openverse is a tool that allows openly licensed and public domain works to be discovered and used by everyone.

Openverse searches across more than 300 million images from open APIs and the Common Crawl dataset. It goes beyond simple search to aggregate results across multiple public repositories into a single catalog, and facilitates reuse through features like machine-generated tags and one-click attribution. Openverse is the successor to CC Search which was launched by Creative Commons in 2019, after its migration to WordPress in 2021.

Please note that Openverse does not verify whether the images are properly CC licensed, or whether the attribution and other licensing information we have aggregated is accurate or complete. Please independently verify the licensing status and attribution information before reusing the content. For more details, read the Openverse Terms of Use.

About Fair Use:

"Fair Use" is a fairly well known phrase when discussing copyright protection. It's often spoken in regards for justification for using parts of a copyrighted material without gaining permission from the owner. However, it's important to know that Fair Use is not a law. Instead, it is a doctrine that "promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances" (United States Copyright Office, n. d., More information on fair use). In plainer terms, it's a defense you can use to defend yourself against copyright infringement. Below, you will find more information on how to properly apply Fair Use parameters to your individual needs.

United States Copyright Office (n. d.). More information on fair use. Retrieved from

Applying Fair Use:

Dr. Thomas J. Tobin uses the PANE criteria to help determine if Fair Use applies to any situation. Descriptions of the different aspects of Fair Use come from Section 107 of US Copyright Law. You can read more here

Purpose - The purpose and character of the use. For example, is this for commercial use? Then it might not be defensible under Fair Use. However, educational purposes at non-profit insitutions would be.

Amount - The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole. For example, using a portion of a copyrighted work is more defensible than using the work as a whole or using a large portion of the work.

Nature of the work - Is the work factual or creative? You will have a better defense is the work is informational (scholarly article, news story, etc.) rather than creative (movies, tv shows, songs, etc.).

Economic impact - The effect of the use upon the potential market for the copyrighted work. Are you somehow negatively impacting the market value of a work or taking away profits from the owner through your use of it?

Understanding Open Access:

Open access is becoming a more common practice in the scholarly publishing world where authors and publishers make their works openly available to others. Open access works are freely shared, which in turn, increases their visibility by others in the research world.

Open Educational Resources - "freely accessible, openly licensed documents and media that are useful for teaching, learning, and assessing as well as for research purposes" Wikipedia.

Open-Access Scholarly Literature - This is academic publication available online for free. Most of the copyright and licensing material does not have restrictions. This site lists over 9,000 peer-reviewed, open access journals.

Open Source Software Licenses - Allow software to be freely used, modified, and shared.

Public Domain:

Permission is not needed if the work in question is in the public domain. Works in the public domain are not protected by copyright. Below is a list of reasons why certain works might be in the public domain:

  • Expiration of copyright: the copyright has expired.
    • Before 1925
  • Failure to renew copyright: the owner failed to follow copyright renewal rules.
    • Anytime between 1923 and 1963 with copyright notice but not renewed
    • Anytime between 1923 and 1977 with no copyright notice
    • Anytime between 1978 and March 1, 1989 with no copyright notice and no registration, or to which author has given up rights
  • Dedication: the owner deliberately places it in the public domain.
  • A work of the United States government, or prepared by an officer or employee of the federal government as part of that person's official duties, is in the public domain.

Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States - Cornell University by Peter B. Hirtle

Digital Copyright Slider by the American Library Association & Michael Brewer to determine if it is in the public domain.

Artificial Intelligence and Copyright:

It is now vital to stay at the forefront of intellectual property in the digital age by exploring the dynamic intersection of copyright and artificial intelligence. As technology evolves, so do the challenges and opportunities for creators and innovators. Whether you're a content creator, legal professional, or technology enthusiast, staying current on these issues is essential for navigating the evolving landscape of innovation and ensuring a harmonious coexistence between creativity and intellectual property in the 21st century.  Below are a few resources to get started with understanding copyright and artificial intelligence today.

Wikipedia's Article on Artificial Intelligence: This extensive article delves into the core concepts, history, applications, and potential implications of AI. It offers a well-structured introduction to the field.

Stanford University's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (AI Lab): As a renowned research institution in AI, Stanford's AI Lab provides a wealth of information, including research projects, educational resources, and news updates.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Artificial Intelligence Website: MIT's AI website offers a comprehensive overview of the field, covering topics such as AI ethics, AI for social good, and AI education.

Artificial Intelligence for Everyone (AIE) Course: Developed by Andrew Ng, this Coursera course provides a beginner-friendly introduction to AI, covering the fundamentals of machine learning and deep learning.

OpenAI's Five Deep Questions in Artificial Intelligence: OpenAI, a leading AI research company, poses five fundamental questions that guide the exploration of AI's potential and challenges.

Identifying Questionable Online Sources:

False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and/or Satirical "News" Sources (Google Doc)

This Google Doc link contains information and tips for analyzing news sources from  This curated document details the steps for analyzing websites, and provides definitions for website labels used by  This page also contains a working website list for current (and inactive) questionable sites, with a link to the source Google spreadsheet.

Ground News: 

Technology is revolutionizing the way information is shared and who is able to share it. This democratization in the distribution of information allows for a multitude of viewpoints, but it also contributes to polarizing views. This often leaves citizens with a sense that we are unable to find common ground on key issues in contemporary society.  In this climate, we need to carefully examine not only the news we consume, but we also need to evaluate the sources and funding for the news that influences our daily decisions.  Ground News is a news aggregation service that allows you to better determine your own personal bias, and then identify blind-spots outside of the algorithm based feeds you receive via social media each day.

For information about a Ground News subscription, please contact Michael Wells at 937.481.2346


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