Using Copyrightable Materials

pale red circle labeled Uses Copyright Owners Control, beneath it, pale blue circle labeled Uses You Might Want To Make

A copyright owner has the right to control a lot of uses of their works, like making copies (of all or part of a work), distributing copies, showing or performing a work in public, and making new works based on existing ones.

We all make many uses of creative works. Some are more passive - reading, watching, listening; and some are more active - citing, copying, remixing. Many very simple, everyday uses, like forwarding an email (you just made a copy!), or watching movies with friends (is that a public performance?) overlap with, or "implicate" copyright rights.

In fact, there is a lot of overlap between uses people make of copyrightable works, and the kinds of uses copyright owners control.

Venn diagram showing the red and blue circles from the above illustration almost entirely overlapping; the purple overlapping area is labeled Uses You Can't Make Without PermissionSometimes it feels like every use requires permission.

It's really important to remember there are many limitations and exceptions to copyright owners' rights, and many types of uses that are exempted in certain circumstances. So even though the uses people want to make overlap a lot with the uses owners control, there are many situations where the use is allowed!

Venn diagram showing the red and blue circles overlapping, but with many randomly distributed holes inside the red circle - the area of overlap is still purple, but with many smaller blue spots inside it. The blue spots are labeled Uses You CAN Make Without PermissionCopyright has room for many uses!

Sometimes you may be able to use something because it falls under an exception or exemption to copyright law - for example, small business owners may be able to play music off the radio (which would otherwise be a public performance, requiring permission) because there is a specific exception in the law for small business use of broadcast media! Other times, you may be able to use something because your use fits within fair use, a flexible-but-confusing part of the law that enables many different types of uses under many different conditions.

Learn More

Using Copyrightable Materials:
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

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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.