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Free Multimedia Content: Copyright, Fair Use, and You

Images, video and audio - information and sites


copyright image

Here are some informative links to get started and understanding some aspects of copyright.

When you start

Everything on the Internet is not true and like this, everything on the Internet is not free for you to use.

Copyright protects digital items just as it does physical ones. However, in the digital environment it can be very difficult to see what copyright or license applies and even more difficult to track down a creator to ask for permission. Consider the following four items.

1. Use media with stated licenses.

This includes Creative Commons and Public Domain; these works will be clearly labeled so that you understand what you need to do to edit or reuse them.  This does not take away the need for giving credit where credit is due though.  Attribution is part of Creative Commons and items will typically state this.

2. See if your situation qualifies as Fair Use.

If you are using these materials in the classroom, as a student or instructor, your work may be subject to different guidelines. Remember, you will still need to provide citation information to give proper credit to your sources.  When considering Fair Use, think about the academic use of what you are doing.

3. Create your own media.

Thanks to technology, creating your own images and media is easier than ever before. Use a camera, audio or video recorder to make your own media.  

4. Purchase the rights to use items.

There are many sites where you can pay to be able to use images, videos, etc.  Most consider pursuing the other three options first!


Guidelines for Best Practice (the following are not legally binding)

"The code identifies eight situations that represents the library community's current consensus about acceptable practices for the fair use of copyrighted materials and how those rights should apply in certain recurrent situations."  Click on Code of Best Practices in Fair Use and Academic and Research Libraries to download the document.

"Created by the International Communication Association.  Helps U.S. communication scholars to interpret the copyright doctrine of fair use."

"A code of best practices that helps creators, online providers, copyright holders, and others interested in the making of online video interpret the copyright doctrine of fair use. "


Terms Defined

     In order to use audio, video or images, you should have a basic understanding of the terminology many of the sites use with regards to usages and rights.  These are a few terms that are important to be familiar with when dealing with content.

Copyright - gives the original creators of a work exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, or perform their works. Copyright law applies to nearly all creative and intellectual works: books, recordings, images, video, audio, articles, websites, art, music, dance, architecture, and computer programs are just some of the works protected by copyright.
Creative Commons - allows creators to give permission for people to use their work without asking permission or paying fees and also enables people to find images, music, video, and other media to use in their projects without paying licensing fees or infringing the copyright of other creators.
Derivative Work - is a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted. A work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaboration, or other modifications which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship, is a derivative work. 
Fair Use - a reasonable and limited use of a copyrighted work without the author's permission. Where Creative Commons licensing is selected by the creator to allow specific uses of a work, the doctrine of Fair Use apples to any copyrighted work, and does not require any permissions from the creator, but the use must comply with the four factors listed below.  Fair Use does not necessarily allow for remixing, reuse, and/or revision as creative commons licenses do. 
Public Domain - The status of any creative work, invention, or device that is not protected by copyright law. Such items are available for use without permission. Often, works enter the public domain after patent, copyright, or trademark rights have expired or been abandoned.
Public Performance Rights (film)According to the U.S. copyright law (Title 17, United States Code, Section 110), a public performance is any screening of a videocassette, DVD, video disc or film which occurs outside of the home, or at any place where people are gathered who are not family members, such as in a library. Even if no admission is charged or if the screening is in a nonprofit organization or library, you need a public performance license to show a film. Every performance of a copyrighted work requires authorization from the copyright owner or representative unless permission is obtained.

Definitions adapted from:  Black's Law Dictionary, 8th Ed., Edited by Bryan A. Garner, published by Thomson West (1999) & Creative Commons (

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