A Map of Use Issues
There are a lot of different issues involved in figuring out if copyright requires you to seek permission (and often, pay a fee) for some use you'd like to make, or if copyright allows you to make the use without permission. The map and outline below may help guide you through the thought process.
These guides do NOT answer the "Can I Use It?" question for you - no one but you can make that decision! They can help you learn about and remember the relevant copyright issues. Keep in mind that publicity, privacy, defamation, and other legal issues may sometimes be relevant to whether you can use existing works - the more individual people are identifiable in the work, the more likely some of these issues are to be relevant.
Can I Use That? A Map of Use Issues
Can I Use That? An Outline
Visual guides don't work well for everyone, so we've also laid out the same issues in the graphic map, above, as an ordered outline. Again, intended as a guide and a learning tool.
- Is the work covered by copyright?
- Is the work eligible for © protection?
If NO, copyright is likely not an issue; no one owns a copyright in the work.
If yes, go on to question 2.
- Is the work in the public domain?
If YES, copyright is likely not an issue; no one owns a copyright in the work.
If no, go on to question 2.
- Is your intended use already permitted?
- Is there a © exemption or exception for your use?
- Is there a Library subscription for your use?
- Is the work available under a Creative Commons license or other open license?
If YES to ANY of these questions, copyright is an issue, but your use may be legal.
If NO to all of these questions, go on to question 3.
- Is your intended use a Fair Use?
- Have you seriously examined all four factors and other relevant issues?
If NO, go back and do that. (Check out the Thinking Through Fair Use tool for more help.)
- Having examined all four factors and other relevant issues,
If you concluded that your use is likely to be a fair use, then your use may well be legal.
If you concluded that your use is NOT likely to be a fair use, then seek permission.
If you seek permission, and it is denied, consider revising your planned use, using a different work, buying legal copies for your use, or seeking further legal advice.
You are always welcome to contact the University Libraries for further information about use questions, and we may be able to help you understand some of the relevant issues outline above. However, conclusive answers about copyright use issues are rare. If you are unsure about your use, you may wish to consult an attorney.
Learn MoreUsing Copyrightable Materials: Use Overview | Making a Use Decision | Fair Use | Thinking Through Fair Use | Guidelines and Best Practices | Getting Permission
Use in Context: Teaching Uses | Research and Writing Uses | Multimedia Use | Student Use
This web site presents information about copyright law. The University Libraries make every effort to assure the accuracy of this information but do not offer it as counsel or legal advice. Consult an attorney for advice concerning your specific situation.