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Using Copyrighted Materials
How to Use Copyrighted Materials
Due to U.S. copyright law, a great deal of creative content is automatically copyrighted upon creation. Y
ou should assume something is copyrighted until you have details about its copyright status.
Before using content, follow these steps
You do not always need to contact someone to get permission. Some licenses like grants permission to use work in advance. Creative Commons
Determining a Work's Copyright Status
Copyright laws have changed over the years, so it often takes some investigation to determine a work's copyright status. You'll need to know one or more of the following:
Copyright and License information
If and when the work was published
If the work was registered and renewed with the U.S. Copyright Office
The birth and/or death date of the author
Copyright Information and License Information
Sometimes copyright information will be readily available. This will tell you whether the content is copyrighted and whether permission is required.
Places to look for this information include:
Front Matter of a Book (the first few pages before the main text)
Captions for published images and pictures
Copyright or Permissions page on a website
Copyright Records Database
From the U.S. Copyright Office. Search for copyright registrations and renewals from 1978 to present.
Copyright Registration and Renewal Records
From the Online Books Page, University of Pennsylvania Libraries. Includes digitized copies of registration and renewal records from the U.S. Copyright Office, 1891-1978.
Copyright Term Limits
If a work has not been published, the following copyright terms apply:
Life of the author, plus 70 years. If the author died before 1942, you do not need permission.
If the author and/or death date is unknown, 120 years from date of creation. If the unpublished work was created before 1892, you do not need permission.
The copyright status of a published work varies depending on when it was published and whether or not the work was registered, renewed, or published with a copyright notice.
without a copyright notice:
Published without a notice before 1978: You do not need permission.
Published without a notice between 1978 and March 1, 1989:
Not registered within 5 years of publication: You do not need permission.
Registered within 5 years of publication: Life of the author, plus 70 years; you will need permission to use the work.
Published without a notice after March 1, 1989: The work has copyright protection; you will need permission to use the work.
Published with a copyright notice:
Published with a notice before 1923: You do not need permission.
Published with a notice between 1923 and 1963:
Copyright was not renewed: You do not need permission.
Copyright was renewed: 95 years after the publication date; you will need permission to use the work.
Published with a notice from 1964 to present: The work has copyright protection; you will need permission to use the work.
Not sure if a work has been registered or renewed? Ask a Librarian.
Meet with a Librarian
Meet with a research librarian to discuss a copyright question.
This site is intended for informational purposes only. Library staff members cannot give legal advice. For legal advice, you should contact an intellectual property attorney.
Warning about Copyright Notices
A copyright notice can provide information about a work's copyright status, but the lack of a copyright notice does not mean a work is not copyrighted. Remember that a work does not have to be registered or even published to have copyright protection.
Questions? Need help?
Ask a Librarian
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