Did you know that you cannot copyright an idea? Nor can you copyright a fact, like a person's phone number. Only an original work of authorship committed to tangible form (that is the original expression of an idea) is covered under copyright law, as defined by Title 17 of the United States Code. Examples of copyrighted works (also called intellectual property) include:
The owner of a copyrighted work controls the use of that work, and only they can make copies or make derivatives of the original work. Did you also know that a work is copyrighted the second it is made tangible? You don't even have to see a copyright symbol for it to be copyrighted. So, you know what that means? That means that unless otherwise noted, almost everything you encounter on the Web and in print is copyrighted.
So, given that much of what you encounter is covered by copyright, how do you know what to use and when?
If you're working on a presentation or a paper for class, then fair use guidelines apply. However, don't forget to cite the source properly to avoid plagiarizing.
Remember -- whenever you use another person's thought or idea in your paper (whether it's directly quoted or paraphrased), you must cite the source. For help on avoiding plagiarism, check out What is Plagiarism, and How Do I Avoid It? Playbook.
If you have a blog or personal Web page, then fair use may no longer apply. When in doubt, request permission from the author or copyright holder.