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Copyright and Creative Commons: Home

Questions, answers and resources about Copyright, Fair Use, Transformative Use, and Creative Commons

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a form of protection granted by U.S. law to the creators of “original works of authorship” including scholarly and creative works. It gives creators certain exclusive rights. Creators do not have to register their work or attach a copyright notice in order for copyright protection to apply to the work; the protection exists automatically from the time the work is created.

What is Fair Use?

When we want to use other people's material, it is best to assume that pretty much everything is copyright protected. And yes, that includes the notes your classmate just threw in the trash! This doesn't mean that we can't and shouldn't use each other's work, however. There is an important exception to federal copyright law that can allow us to use other peoples work - even if it is copyrighted.
Fair Use allows us to use other's work in a variety of cases (such as satire, criticism, education and news reporting to give a few examples) without first seeking permission. By relying on Fair Use we can learn from other people's knowledge and ethically build on their works. To find out if the use you have in mind qualifies as Fair Use you have to equally consider four factors. Briefly, they are:
  • Purpose and character of the use
  • Nature of the original work
  • Amount and substantiality of portion used
  • Effect on the potential marketplace

To understand how Fair Use works and to do an analysis, we recommend this site: U of MN’s Thinking Through Fair Use.

When Fair Use doesn't apply, here are some options:
  • Search for materials with a Creative Commons (CC) license. Here you can find works that authors have agreed to share.
  • Select materials that are in the Public Domain and no longer under copyright protection. Determining if a particular work is in the Public Domain can require a bit of research and the U.S. Copyright office as well as Project Gutenberg are good places to start.

What is Transformative Use?

If your use of a copyrighted work is transformative then it's probably fair use.  Transformative means that something new has been created rather than just a copy, Scholarly critique and parody are common forms of "transformative use."

What is Creative Commons?

Searching the Creative Commons

The Creative Commons search widget will let you search for reusable multimedia content.


Copyright: Forever Less One Day

Wanna Work Together? from Creative Commons on Vimeo.



What rights do Copyright holders have?

How long does Copyright last?

How can I decide if a use is fair?

What is the Teach Act?

Copyright & Fair Use: Art, Media & Music

Who owns copyrightable works created at CUNY?

What is Creative Commons and how does it relate to copyright?



 This information was adapted from the Brooklyn College Library Scholarly Communications guide as well as from the CUNY guide by library faculty in consultation with CUNY's Office of General Counsel and is intended to support the CUNY community in making independent, informed decisions about copyright compliance and educational fair use.