What is copyright?
What is copyrighted?
Unless otherwise specified, all images/text on the Web are copyrighted.
Public domain works can be used for any purpose without having to seek permission. Generally speaking, works published prior to 1923 are no longer copyrighted and are in the public domain. All works created by the Federal Government or licensed under a Public Domain Dedication are also usable and considered part of the public domain.
Copyright is a short-term monopoly, so copyright does expire. To determine when a work will be part of the public domain, use these tools:
Fair use, as outlined in Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law, is an exemption that limits the rights of copyright holders. It allows persons to utilize copyrighted works without seeking permission or paying a fee. Under fair use, one may make copies for "criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship or research" (Section 107).
Fair use is not a precise, clear-cut determination for what is or is not allowed, however. One must evaluate each use against the four factors outlined in Section 107:
Transformation is also a big consideration in favor of fair use. If you are transforming the original work and the new work's message/intent varies significantly, then fair use applies.
A good rule of thumb is to use as little as possible to convey your new message/intent/meaning. The clincher is that you only should use what you need and that there must be originality in the new piece.
To find images that are openly accessible, go our Open Educational Resources guide. This guide offers links to images in the public domain, images licensed under a Creative Commons license and freely available, specially licensed image collections.