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Copyright Guide: For Students

General Information on U.S. Copyright Law for Staff and Students

Making a Video?

Watch the video, "Remix Culture" from the Center for Social Media:

After you view the video, use the "Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video" to help you understand fair use rights and mashups, remixes, and other uses of protected works.

Another useful tool for the filmmakers among you is "Yes, You Can!" by Peter Jaszi for The Center for Social Media.

So What About File-sharing?

We all know that illegal file sharing is, well, illegal. It is also unethical. Maintaining academic integrity, avoiding plagiarism, and giving credit where credit is due are all ethical decisions we make as participants in the academic community. While there are many debates regarding copyright term limits, fair use, etc., it is generally accepted that artists should be free to make use of their works as they wish, whether that is to share their work freely or to attempt to make a living from the sale of those works. The blog Trichordist: Artists for an Ethical Internet provides plenty of opinion on why you (and the people you know) might want to pay for the songs (and other media) you download:


  • If I buy a book, do I own copyright to it? No. You own a copy of the work, and you may sell that copy or loan it to a friend, but the copyright owner's rights still apply.
  • Do I need permission to use something I found on the web? It depends. Is it protected by copyright? What are you going to use it for? Are you going to post it on your own web site? Are you including it in a presentation for class? Sometimes, fair use might apply, but you may want to ask a librarian to help you answer this question.
  • How do I get permission to use something I found on the web? This can be a challenge! Look for any attribution (like a citation) to a copyright owner. Read any "Terms of  Use" or "Permissions" information you find on the originating site. Another option is to search the Creative Commons search function for access to items shared with Creative Commons licenses. Look for the Creative Commons license on the works you find to determine whether you can use those works and what you need to do to use them legally.
  • I'm making a video for a class project, and I'm going to film the people in Riverside Park. Do I need to ask everyone in the video for permission to include them? This isn't exactly a copyright question, but it and other questions related to copyright are answered through the resources included in the "Making a Video?" box located on this page.
  • What is the difference between plagiarism and copyright infringement? Plagiarism, generally speaking, is presenting others' work or ideas as your own without giving proper attribution or credit to the author or creator of the work. Although it does not always involve legal action in the same sense as copyright infringement, it is included in the UW System's definition of Academic Misconduct. Copyright infringement is a violation of a copyright owner's rights, provided by Title 17 of the U.S. Code, to control over their work. Broadly speaking, it involves using significant portions of a copyrighted work (See "What Works Are Protected?" in the "Copyright Basics" tab) without permission and outside the exceptional uses addressed by Fair Use and other limitations on the law.

Other questions? Ask a librarian!