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Copyright and Fair Use

Information on copyright law, fair use, public domain, and Creative Commons


  • The purpose of this guide is to provide faculty, staff, and students at RCC with an understanding of copyright law, fair use, public domain, and Creative Commons.
  • While copyright issues can be complex, everyone needs to understand the basics. Failure to comply with copyright law can lead to substantial legal penalties for individuals and/or the college.

"Thank you" to the following for allowing us to borrow content from their LibGuides:

  • Bellingham Technical College Library in Bellingham, WA
  • Mansfield Library of the University of Montana in Missoula, MT
  • Bern Dibner Library of Science and Technology Polytechnic Institute of NYU in Brooklyn, NY


Copyright law, as defined in Title 17 of the United States Code (opens in a new window), protects "original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression" for a limited period.

Copyright protection includes, for instance, the legal right to publish and sell literary, artistic, or musical work, and copyright protects authors, publishers and producers, and the public.

Copyright applies both to traditional media (books, records, etc.) and to digital media (electronic journals, Web sites, etc.).

Copyright protects the following eight categories of works:

  1. literary works
  2. musical works
  3. dramatic works
  4. pantomimes and choreographic works
  5. pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  6. motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  7. sound recordings
  8. architectural works

Ownership of a copyrighted work includes the right to control the use of that work.

Use of such work by others during the term of the copyright requires either permission from the author or reliance on the doctrine of fair use (opens in a new window). Failure to do one or the other will expose the user to a claim of copyright infringement for which the law provides remedies including payment of money damages to the copyright owner.