Copyright law protects authors, artists, and creators so that they can benefit from and protect the tangible works they create. Copyright holders have the exclusive right to copy and distribute their works, and to publicly perform and display their works, among other things. How can you use someone else's work without infringing on their copyrights?
First, consider using works that are in the public domain, which are materials not protected by intellectual property laws such as copyright. A work may have entered the public domain because the copyright expired, the copyright owner has dedicated the work to the public domain, or it may be a work published by the U.S. Federal Government.
Although there are a number of other scenarios where a work might exist in the public domain, you can identify many public domain works because they are:
This is a simple overview of the public domain. Determining whether a work is in the public domain can be quite complicated. If you'd like to read more about copyright, fair use, and the public domain, Stanford University Libraries has an excellent guide.
Next, a growing body of copyright protected work is openly licensed. This means that a copyright holder has proactively agreed to allow users to do a variety of things with his or her work, which might include copying, redistributing, revising, and remixing that work without seeking permission first. One organization, Creative Commons, has developed licenses that copyright holders can attach to their works in the form of six different open licenses. Each license has slightly different requirements that users must follow.
|Creative Commons License and Icon||What the License Requires|
|This license allows users to distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon a work, even commercially, as long as they credit the copyright holder for the original creation.|
|This license allows users to distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon a work, even commercially, as long as they credit the copyright holder and license their new creation under identical terms.|
|This license allows users to remix, tweak, and build upon a work non-commercially, and although the new work must acknowledge you and have a non-commercial, component in the license, the new work does not have to have the identical license.|
Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike or
|This license allows users to remix, tweak, and build upon a work non-commercially, as long as the new creation is licensed under identical terms.|
Attribution NoDerivs or
|This license allows users to reuse the work for any purpose, including commercially as long as they credit the copyright holder and do not share an adapted form of the work.|
Attribution NonCommercial NoDerivs or
|This license is the most restrictive of the six main licenses, only allowing users to download works and share them with others as long as the copyright holder is credited and the work is not changed in any way or used commercially.|
If you use a Creative Commons licensed work, all six licenses require attribution. A proper attribution requires:
A useful online tool to help you create attributions is the Open Washington Attribution Builder.
For more information about the Creative Commons licenses, check out the organization's website.
If you are not sure if a work is in the public domain, there are some very effective tools which may be of help.
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