Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Copyright Tips

A self-service guide to analyzing copyright questions

About this Guide

The Libraries of the University of Maine System comply with all copyright laws of the United States, and encourage appropriate use of our materials under the doctrine of Fair Use.

While the information in this guide cannot be construed as legal advice, we hope it offers value in assessing and navigating the legal implications of using copyrighted materials in your courses.  

All images used in this guide are in the public domain unless otherwise captioned.the copyright symbol: the letter C with a circle around it.   

What is copyright?

Copyright is a set of rights provided by the laws of the United States (Title 17, U. S. Code) to the authors of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, audiovisual and certain other works, including software. The law is designed to promote the "progress of science and useful arts."

This protection is available to both published and unpublished works that are fixed in a tangible medium (written down, filmed, drawn, etc.). Works do not have to display the copyright symbol © or be registered to be protected.

Copyright law gives the owner of copyright the right to reproduce, prepare derivative works, distribute copies, perform the work publicly, display the work publicly, and, in the case of sound recordings, to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission. The owner of the copyright may transfer all or part of these rights to others. 

Subject to some exceptions described in this guide, a person exercising any of these rights in another’s work without permission, the person may be liable for copyright infringement.  

These are NOT protected by copyright:

  • common knowledge, ideas, facts, titles, names, procedures, html coding and works not fixed in tangible form
  • items in the public domain
  • government works, such as judicial opinions, public ordinances, and administrative rulings

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Remember, ideas are not copyrightable. Creative works much be fixed, meaning transferred to a tangible medium