Skip To Main Content

Copyright Guidelines for Students

Plagiarism, Copyright, Fair Use, Creative Commons, and Public Domain

As you learn and grow academically and creatively, we encourage you to share your knowledge, innovations, and creations. We learn from the world around us, and our creations often include elements we've learned from others' work (quotes, illustrations, music, photos, books, movies, etc.). If you use someone else's work without permission, you may be violating copyright and committing plagiarism. You need to be aware of the terms plagiarism, copyright, fair use, creative commons, and public domain.

Plagiarism is when you are presenting someone else's work and claiming it as your own.

You are committing plagiarism if you don't give someone credit when you are copying and pasting from a website, taking ideas from books and research, and even copying and re-using music and art. You must always give credit to the original author or creator of the work and include a citation of where you got the work. Quote your sources accurately. If you are paraphrasing, you should re-write the work into your own words or perspective.

Copyright is when the owner or creator of a piece of work has the right to decide how it can be used, copied, modified, and published.

If you are using someone else's work you must get permission from them first, unless you are claiming Fair Use, using something licensed as Creative Commons, or using something considered Public Domain.

Fair Use permits certain uses of copyrighted materials without permission from the author or creator for reasons such as educational purposes, news reporting, commenting, and critiquing.

Guidelines for Fair Use:  

1. A majority of the material you create must be your own. If you are including someone else's work, it should only be a small portion.

2. You must give full credit to the copyright holder and provide information about where people can access the original work.

3. You should not try to make money or make a profit from anything you create that includes someone else's work.

Creative Commons

Some people will license their work with Creative Commons and allow others to use their work for free, but only if they follow certain rules. There are over 1.6 billion creations (literary works, vidoes, photos, audio, research, and more) that you can search through at

Creative Commons: Definitions of various rules

1. Attribution CC BY: You must give the creator credit.

2. Non-Commercial CC BY-NC: You cannot make a profit or make money by using their work.

3. No Derivative Works CC BY-ND: You cannot change their material in any way.

4. Share Alike CC BY-SA: You can change the material, but you have to also let others use your work as Share Alike.

Public Domain

You can use, copy, change, and publish work that is considered Public Domain without getting permission from the creator. 

It only qualifies as public domain if:

1. It was published prior to 1923.

2. The creator has been deceased for at least 70 years, and no other individuals own their work.

3. The creator has intentionally made the material available in the Public Domain.

Copyright Infographic


Finding Creative Commons and Public Domain content that you can use.

You can use Google Advanced Search or Google Advanced Image Search to specifically find content that is available for Creative Commons use or classified as available in the Public Domain. Simply scroll down to the section that says "Usage Rights", click on the drop down menu, and select the option that meets your needs.

Image of Google Advanced Search


Internet Copyright Infringement - 5 Myths vs Facts