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This guide provides an introduction to U.S. copyright law and associated resources related to education and scholarship.

Pre-Licensed Works

A work under copyright indicates that the copyright holder has reserved all of the rights that are available to them under the law. This may mean you have to work with the copyright owner to determine what they will allow and under what conditions. However, works that are in high demand or controlled by large organizations may already have licensing in place that changes how an individual may access and use a work within certain parameters.

These parameters can vary widely and may differ greatly from those set by copyright law. Therefore, it is important to read licenses carefully and seek assistance from the library or legal counsel if you have questions about your use of a work.

Who offers pre-licensed works?

  • Libraries

Academic and public libraries license a variety of materials in order to provide access for patrons. In general, the licenses on these materials are fairly strict, allowing patrons to use them (read, listen, watch, interact), but not to copy, retain, reuse, revise, remix, or redistribute. In academic libraries, some licenses may even stipulate that the content can only be used in direct relation to coursework and not for personal or commercial purposes.

  • Commercial Vendors

Images and musical works are in high demand. Many vendors integrate use licenses with subscription fees. Depending on the vendor, licensing may retain certain rights or offer royalty free works.

  • Creative Commons

Works licensed under Creative Commons are directly licensed by the author or copyright holder to the public for specific uses at no cost. Learn more about Creative Commons below.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons logo (CC in a circle with the words Creative Commons)Creative Commons is an organization that provides an avenue for creators to license their copyright-protected works so they can be used by the public, with varying restrictions.

Creative Commons Licensing SpectrumIndividual creators or copyright holders can determine what types of permissions to automatically attach to each work and how others can use it. For example, some copyright holders allow users to alter works, and others do not. Some allow their works to be used commercially, and others do not.

If use of a work is authorized under a Creative Commons license, you don’t have to contact the copyright holder directly to request permission to use it. However, you must follow the conditions specified in the license and provide attribution. You can learn more about attribution on the Creative Commons Use & Remix page, where you can also find the link to search for works licensed under Creative Commons.

Works under a Creative Commons license should include an icon and/or link that explains how the work may be used.

Copyright Clearance Center

decorative imageThe Copyright Clearance Center (CCC) is a company that acts as a go-between for copyright holders and those who need to use copyright-protected materials.

CCC provides materials to users and collects royalties for copyright holders. This is often done on a large scale for organizations such as corporations and academic libraries that need access to a large number of materials. CCC also provides a pay-per-use system for individuals who need to access and share copyright-protected material on a smaller scale.

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