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Digital Media: Copyright

This LibGuide contains information for research in Digital Media.

Copyright and Fair Use

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a federal law that gives creators of media exclusive rights to copy, distribute, and modify the things they create for a limited time.

This is why iTunes charges for songs, and why YouTube videos featuring licensed content if taken down within hours of posting.


What is Fair Use?

Fair use is a doctrine of US Copyright Law, allowing for the limited use of copyrighted material without requiring permission from the copyright holder. It permits legal, non-licensed citation or incorporation of copyrighted material in another creator's work using a 4-part balancing test. The tricky part about Fair Use is that the balancing test is subjective and open to interpretation.

The four factors judges consider are:

  1. purpose and character of your use
  2. nature of the copyrighted work
  3. amount and substantiality of the portion taken, and
  4. effect of the use upon the potential market.



If your intended use exceeds copyright restrictions on a particular work and you cannot make a Fair Use Argument, you should seek permission from the copyright owner.

What is this process?

  1. Determine the copyright owner.
    Hint: This could be the publisher, author, artist, photographer, videographer, etc.
  2. Contact the copyright holder for each object you plan to use.
    Hint: This can take time, so plan ahead. Many websites have copyright permission links in their page footers or home page.
    Hint: Many publishers are members of the Copyright Clearance Center.  Contact CCC.
  3. Include the following in your permission request:
    • Your name and contact information
    • The object you wish to use
    • How you intend to use the object
    • What format you will use
    • Whether your use is for educational or commercial purposes
    • Why you want to use the object
    • Your intention to acknowledge the author/creator and in what format 
  4. Keep a record of all correspondence.


Design and Copyright - Making Sure Your Work is Legal

Designer's Guide to Stock Photography

Creativity, Copyright, and Fair Use