Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
Decorative SUU library logo

Research Guides

INFO 2010: Information Literacy in the Disciplines

This guide contains some of the readings for INFO 2010: Information Literacy in the Disciplines.

Copyright, Fair Use, and Creative Commons Licensing



Intellectual property is “creations of the mind” (World Intellectual Property Organization). They result from your hard work developing new technologies, products, and information. Intellectual property is protected by patents for new inventions, trademarks for product logos and symbols, and copyright for creative, artistic, and intellectual expression. These protections give the creators of intellectual property certain legal rights for the use of their creations.

In information literacy, we are concerned with copyright because it protects authors, artists, and musicians which represents the majority of the materials we will use in academic research. Copyright is not something for which you need to apply. It is granted automatically when your creation is "fixed in a tangible medium" (U.S. Copyright Office). That means when you finish writing your research paper, it is protected by copyright. When you hit "post" on a blog entry, it is copyrighted. When you snap a picture, it is copyrighted. If you have the world's best song in your head, it is not copyrighted until you record it.

Copyright allows the copyright holder to make money from the work, create derivative works, and perform the work in public among other things, and it gives them legal protection from those who would use their work without permission to do so (U.S. Copyright Office). Violating copyright is breaking the law, and you can be sued damages!

Copyright can be assigned to others. If you wrote an article about the research you did on Western Tanagers and want to get it published in a prestigious biology journal, you may have to give your copyright to them in order to get your article published in their journal. All the protections and privileges of copyright pass to the publisher's of the journal.

Terms of use agreements ares another way you may be required to give up your copyright. Most web services like Twitter and Facebook require you to agree to their terms of use prior to using their websites. We usually click on "Agree" without even reading the terms of service. You could be giving up your copyright or granting the service provider permission to use your intellectual property as they see fit. This is from Twitter's terms of service agreement:

"[Y]ou grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods now known or later developed (for clarity, these rights include, for example, curating, transforming, and translating)" (Twitter Terms of Service).


Fair use

Copyright law would imply that if you wrote a paper with 10 different citations that you would need to contact the authors of all of those works and ask them for permission to quote or summarize from their works. However, there is an important limit to copyright called fair use. It is fair use that allows you to write your research papers without having to seek permission for every quote in your paper.

To discover if your use of a copyrighted work is fair, you apply the "four Factors of Fair Use," weighing their impact collectively, and make a judgement as to whether your use of someone else's material leans toward the "fair" side of the scale. The four factors are:

  • Purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
    • This factor favors educational and scholarly uses of others works, especially if those uses are transformational. "Transformative uses are those that add something new, with a further purpose or different character, and do not substitute for the original use of the work" (“More Information on Fair Use”).
  • Nature of the copyrighted work
    • Facts cannot be copyrighted. Copyright protects the expression of the idea, not the idea itself. Therefore, fiction has stronger copyright protection than non-fiction because it is all about the expression. This does not mean that research articles are not protected by copyright. They are. You need to weigh you use against all four factors.
  • Amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
    • If you use small pieces of a copyrighted work and cite it, your use is probably fair, but if your use a large amount or all of a work, then your use is probably not fair. However, there are no hard and fast rules to the amount you can and cannot use.
  • Effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work
    • This factor is about if, how, and how much your use of another's work effects the value of the original. If your use denies the creators sales of their work, then the scales tip toward and unfair use on your part. ("More Information on Fair Use").

When evaluating whether your use of another's work is fair, you must examine all four factors. The purpose of the use is how you intend to use the works of others. If you want to quote an author in your research paper, that favors fair use, but if you want to make money from someone else's work, that favors copyright and you would need to get permission and perhaps pay a licensing fee to use it.

Watch both of the videos below to improve your understanding of copyright, fair use, and plagiarism.


Creative Commons Licensing

the scale of openness for the different creative commons licencing from CC0 to CC BY-NC-ND.Creative Commons (CC) licensing is a way for the copyright holder to pre-grant permission. When a creator puts their work under creative commons licensing, they are dictating the terms that will allow their works to be used.

Works under a CC license will always have the appropriate license and logo listed, so you can quickly tell what permissions you have to use the work, so you can correctly cite it when you do use it.

One of the most common you might see us the CC BY, which means that the works are free to use, as long as you give proper attribution to the author. You will most likely see the logo that looks like this:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Other licenses indicate that you can use it, but not create derivatives (ND), adapting the works into a new form, such as creating a screenplay from a book or story, etc. Others stipulate that you can't use it for commercial purposes (NC), or that you need to share your derivative with the same license as the work you are using (SA). With each additional stipulation for permission to use, the logo is added, making it easily recognizable on the work, as shown in the example below.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

The graphic to the right shows the range of the licenses from most open to least open, so you can quickly get the idea of how it works. This was taken from the Creative Commons Organization website, which is under a CC BY 4.0 license. It is also a great resource to learn more about CC licensing and how you can get involved in the process. 


“More Information on Fair Use.” U.S. Copyright Office, Accessed 23 July 2021.

Twitter Terms of Service. Accessed 23 July 2021.

U.S. Copyright Office. Circular 1: Copyright Basics. U.S. Copyright Office, Dec. 2019. Zotero,

World Intellectual Property Organization. About IP. n.d.,