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Copyright for Students: Copyright Basics

Brief introduction to best practices and law regarding copyright and the use of copyrighted material.

What is Copyright?

Copyright law exists to protect: “the authors of original works of authorship, including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works.  This protection is available to both published and unpublished works.” (Copyright Basics, U.S. Copyright Office)


Penalties for copyright violations are severe.

Violation of copyright law can result in a legal action for an injunction, confiscation of copyright materials, and forfeiture of monetary damages paid to the copyright owner. A person or institution who infringes a registered copyright may also be subject to attorney's fees and costs in enforcement actions.

Criminal penalties can be imposed for willful violations of a copyright for a financial or commercial nature.

For more information on copyright violation penalties see Chapter 5 of the U.S. Copyright Law.

Creative Commons Licenses

Creative Commons Licenses are free copyright licenses that: “provide a simple, standardized way to give the public permission to share and use your creative work — on conditions of your choice. CC licenses let you easily change your copyright terms from the default of “all rights reserved” to “some rights reserved.”  Creative Commons licenses are not an alternative to copyright. They work alongside copyright and enable you to modify your copyright terms to best suit your needs.”  They also allow you to find content that you can freely and legally use.  (About Creative Commons)


The information found within this guide is not intended to serve as legal advice and should not be taken as such.

All students are expected to assume individual responsibility on matters of copyright and should hold themselves accountable for all such actions.