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Copyright & Fair Use

This guide provides a brief introduction to copyright law and the fair use doctrine, especially in relation to education.


This guide is intended to provide information, not legal advice. This information can be used to help staff and faculty to understand concepts related to copyright. Please consult a legal professional if you have additional concerns or require legal advice.

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What is the "public domain"?

Public domain refers to works that are not covered by copyright, trademark, or patent laws. Works in the public domain cannot be owned, so anyone can use them without asking permission or needing specific licenses.

Works can enter the public domain through multiple ways:

  • Copyright has expired (or copyright renewal rules were not followed correctly)
  • Copyright owner has placed the work into the public domain (dedication)
  • Type of work is not protected by copyright law, such as U.S. Government documents (laws, policies, reports, etc.)

Finding Works in the Public Domain