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Drexel University Libraries abides by United States Copyright Law and seeks to protect the rights of authors and creators while furthering the University's mission of teaching and knowledge creation. The balance between the rights and commercial interests of copyright holders and access to information by the public and especially by the academic and research community forms the basis for copyright legislation.

From: Drexel University Libraries Fair Use Policy [PDF]


Pursuant to the federal Copyright Act (Title 17 of the United States Code), it is preemptively unlawful to reproduce, distribute, or publicly display any copyrighted work (or any substantial portion thereof) without the permission of the copyright owner. The statute, however, recognizes a fair use defense that has the effect of excusing an act of copyright infringement. It is the intention of the Libraries to act within the parameters of the fair use defense in allowing limited posting of copyrighted materials in Electronic Course Reserve. It is the intention of the Library, moreover, that such materials be made available solely for the purposes of private study, scholarship, and research, and that any further reproduction of such materials by students, by printing or downloading, be limited to such purposes. Any further reproduction of copyrighted materials made from this computer system may be in violation of copyright laws and is prohibited.

What is copyright?

Copyright is the legal application of certain rights given to the creators of original works for a limited time. These rights prohibit unauthorized copying, distribution, or performance of such works, except as provided under "fair use" (See U.S. Code Title 17). Currently copyright is granted for the life of the author/creator, plus 75 years. Materials published in the United States since 1923 are considered protected by copyright, except for those published by the federal government or by most states which are in the "public domain".

What is a Creative Commons (CC) License?

CC licenses are copyright licenses, and depend on the existence of copyright to work. CC licenses are legal tools that creators and other rights holders can use to offer certain usage rights to the public, while reserving other rights. Those who want to make their work available to the public for limited kinds of uses while preserving their copyright may want to consider using CC licenses. Others who want to reserve all of their rights under copyright law should not use CC licenses.

What does copyright protect?

Copyright protects "original works of authorship." To be protected by copyright, a work must be original and recorded. It cannot be copied or expressed without being recorded.

Types of works protected by copyright include:

  • Literary works
  • Musical works
  • Dramatic works
  • Pantomimes and choreographic work
  • Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  • Motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • Sound recordings
  • Architectural works

These categories should be viewed broadly for the purpose of registering your work. For example, computer programs and certain “compilations” can be registered as “literary works”; maps and technical drawings can be registered as “pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works.”

What is not protected by copyright?

  • Facts, ideas
  • Procedures, methods, systems, processes
  • Works that are not fixed in a tangible form
  • Titles, names, short phrases, or slogans
  • Familiar symbols or designs
  • Mere variations of lettering or coloring
  • Mere listings of ingredients or contents
  • Works of the United States government
  • Works that have passed into the public domain
How long does copyright last?

In most cases, the author or creator of the work is the copyright holder unless they have transferred the rights to someone else through a written agreement, such as a publishing agreement.

If the work is created as part of a person's employment, it may be a "work for hire," meaning that the employer is the copyright holder. In the university setting, faculty writings and other "traditional works of scholarship," such as syllabi and lecture materials are typically not considered to be works for hire.

If two or more people collaborate together to create a work, they are joint holders of the copyright. Joint owners each have an equal right to exercise and enforce the copyright.

How can I tell if a work is still under copyright?

Under U.S. law, works are protected by copyright automatically at the time of their creation. You are not required to put a copyright notice on the work, to register the work with the U.S. Copyright Office, or to publish the work.

Although providing a copyright notice is not legally required, it can be a good idea to include one anyway if you are making your work publicly available. A copyright notice should provide a way for people who want to use your work to contact you, such as: "© 2022 [name]. For permissions and questions contact [address/email]."

What is fair use?

In Section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976, Congress codified the doctrine of "fair use." Fair use allows reasonable use of a work without permission for specified purposes, including scholarship, teaching and research:

    § 107. Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:

  • the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  • 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

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

What is public domain?

The public domain of copyright refers to the aggregate of those works that are not restricted by copyright within a given jurisdiction.

Works that are in the public domain in the U.S. are not protected by copyright because

  1. The author dedicated them to public use.
  2. The copyright term has expired without renewal.
  3. The work is of a type that does not qualify for copyright protection.

Because the public domain depends on the copyright laws in force within a particular territory, sometimes a work may be considered “in the public domain” of one jurisdiction, but not in another. For example, U.S. government works are automatically in the public domain under U.S. copyright law, but might be restricted by copyright in other countries.

There are several great resources for finding and accessing materials in the public domain:

How do I get permission to use copyrighted material?

The process of getting permission to use a copyrighted work will vary depending on the type of materials.  For most research and teaching purposes, such as putting print or electronic material on reserve, quoting a work in a publication, or copying short excerpts for in-class distribution, "fair use" will likely apply. In other cases, the best first step is to contact the publisher or copyright holder.

How do I secure copyright for something I have written or created?

You do not need to register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office to hold copyright. However, there are certain benefits of registering your copyright: 

  1. Registering your work creates a public record of evidence that you are indeed the author and owner
  2. Registration allows for greater enforcement of your rights against a copyright infringer, enabling you to file a lawsuit and later making available statutory damages (set out in Title 17, Section 504 of the U.S. Code)
What are my rights as an author? What rights do publishers ask for? How can I control what rights I transfer to publishers?

See our Author Rights guide for more information about negotiation of copyright ownership with publishers and how to manage your rights.

When you take a photo, make music or shoot a video it’s yours, you own it. You also own the copyright. Which means you decide how it is used and who can use it and if it can be copied and shared (or remixed). Creative Commons is a set of licenses that enable lawful collaboration to do things like copy, share and remix. Creative Commons is a way to give permission to everyone to freely reuse your creative works. Hundreds of sites use these licenses: Wikipedia, YouTube,, Vimeo, Soundcloud, Flickr, Bandcamp, Boundless, Jamendo, TED, Musopen, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Free Music Archive, Freesound.

Creative Commons makes us all more free to create.

You can use the CC license chooser tool to select the license most appropriate to your needs. The CC licenses are comprised of some combination of the following parameters:

Attribution BY Attribution (BY): All CC licenses require that others who use your work in any way must give you credit the way you request, but not in a way that suggests you endorse them or their use.

Noncommercial NC Noncommercial (NC): You let others copy, distribute, display, perform, and (unless you have chosen No Derivatives) modify and use your work for any purpose other than commercially unless they get your permission first.

No Derivative Works ND No Derivative Works (ND): You let others copy, distribute, display and perform only original copies of your work. If they want to modify your work, they must get your permission first.

Share Alike SA Share Alike (SA): You let others copy, distribute, display, perform, and modify your work, as long as they distribute any modified work on the same terms. If they want to distribute modified works under other terms, they must get your permission first.


The license conditions above combine to offer six license choices:

CC License Types Others must credit you Others can distribute your work Others can modify and build on your work Others must license derivative work under identical conditions Others can use your work for commercial purposes

CC BY Attribution

Attribution CC BY

Yes Yes Yes   Yes

CC BY-SA Attribution-ShareAlike

Attribution-ShareAlike CC BY-SA

Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

CC BY-ND Attribution-NoDerivs

Attribution-NoDerivs CC BY-ND

Yes Yes     Yes

CC BY-NC Attribution-NonCommercial

Attribution-NonCommercial CC BY-NC

Yes Yes Yes    

CC BY-NC-SA Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike CC BY-NC-SA

Yes Yes Yes Yes  

CC BY-NC-ND Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs

Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND

Yes Yes    


Adapted from New York University guide on Creative Commons.


In addition to credit given for various images, parts of this guide were adapted from work/guides by:

University of Minnesota, New York University, University of California: Berkeley

Used with permission or in accordance with Creative Commons Licensing.