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Copyright: Overview

What is copyright?

Copyright law protects original works, balancing the creator’s rights with the public’s right to certain uses. Copyright gives the owner the exclusive rights to:

  • Reproduce or copy the work,
  • Create derivative works,
  • Distribute copies to the public,
  • Public performance or display, and
  • Modification of the original work.

How to make a copyright evaluation

1. Determine whether the work is copyrighted. If it is not, then you can use it however you want.

2.  If it is copyrighted, then look for a license. If it is licensed, follow the terms of that license or negotiate a new license.

3. If it is not licensed, then determine whether your use is allowable for classroom instruction (link to instructor page).

4. If not covered by any of the previous steps, make a fair use evaluation.

5. If the work is copyrighted, there is no license, and your use is not fair or otherwise allowed under copyright law, then you must find the copyright holder and get permission or a license.


Need more help?

The SMU Libraries Copyright Team provides expert education and answers specific questions on copyright. 

Contact us at

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