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Copyright Guide: Copyright Basics

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What is Copyright?

Copyright is a set of rights that protects the works of authors, artists, composers, and others from being used by other people without permission.  

Copyright gives exclusive rights to the copyright holder, which means you cannot use that work without the permission of the copyright holder (often the author or creator). 

Just because something is copyrighted doesn't mean you can't use it.  You can use copyrighted works and other works if:

  • You have express permission from the copyright owner;
  • The work you are using is in the public domain;
  • What you are doing is considered fair use;
  • You have an implied license / the work is pre-licensed for use; or
  • The work you are using is an idea, fact, or data.

Why is Copyright Important?

Using a copyright work without permission is called infringement, and has serious consequences--ranging from (take-down) to lawsuit.

Copyright infringement is against the law, violates the Davidson College Compliance with Laws and Acts regarding copyright, and is unethical. 

Understanding copyright also lets you know how you can use copyrighted materials legally.


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.

Meet with a Librarian

Meet with a research librarian to discuss a copyright question.

Did you know?

A work doesn't have to be published to be copyrighted.  In fact, works created today have long copyright terms, even if they aren't published!

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