Start borrowing content (a practical look at copyright)

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Today's Extension QuickByte is written by the lovely and knowledgeable Kristen Mastel, outreach and instructional librarian with the University Libraries.  

In this week's QuickByte, we'll look at copyright and explore tips for practical use of other's content.


In today's world all it takes is a couple of clicks to copy and paste to enter the world of plagiarism and copyright infringement. Laws around these issues remain ambiguous and unclear, and questions about use must be handled on a case by case basis.  


Copyright is automatically granted at the time a new work is created. Sometimes you may be able to use something because it falls under an exception or exemption to copyright law.  Other times, you may be able to use something because your use fits within fair use, a flexible-but-confusing part of the law that enables many different types of uses under many different conditions.  


There are four factors and the question of transformativeness to consider when you are evaluating a work for fair use.  

  • The purpose and character of the use, including educational or non-profit purposes, or commercial uses.  
  • The nature of the copyrighted work.
  • The amount and "substantiality" of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.
  • The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
  • Transformativeness uses a source work in completely new or unexpected way.
If you are unsure about your use, consider contacting the rights holder, or consulting an attorney. In Extension, you can contact Neil Anderson, copyright contact.

Several non-infringing uses that do not require you to contact the copyright holder exist, including: public domain works, classroom use exemption and Creative Commons.  

Creative Commons licenses allow copyright holders to share works with the public under a variety of preset conditions. If you meet the conditions of the license on a particular work, you can make use of the work without payment or further permission. One must own a copyright in the work in order to grant a Creative Commons license. (

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  1. Review a document or presentation where you used another person's work. If you think your use falls under Fair Use, analyze the relevant issues around the work with the Four Factor Checklist.  
  2. Search the Creative Commons for images, videos, and other content that has been approved for re-use by the author(s) (depending on the license and your intended purpose).  


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