Copyright Resources: Using Copyrighted Works in Scholarship

This guide contains information and resources to support KU students, faculty, and staff in their efforts to use and create copyrighted works in teaching and learning, research, and creative activity.


The use of copyright-protected content in scholarship warrants thoughtful reflection. Some common scholarly uses, such as reading and/or citing a book or article, don't require consideration of copyright. Other scholarly uses such as using copyrighted materials in new works, reusing a scholar's own previously-published work, and distribution of books, articles, or other copyrighted content, however, do require consideration of copyright. The resources below may help determine the copyright status of a work, navigate potential use of 3rd party content including fair use, and finding content that is licensed for free use.

KU Libraries’ Shulenburger Office of Scholarly Communication & Copyright is available to assist KU faculty, staff, and students with questions concerning copyright, including fair use. Contact for assistance.

Start Here

The following resources are good starting points for evaluating 3rd party use, determining the copyright status of a work, and potential use, including fair use. Additional resources may be found in adjacent boxes.

Copyright and Plagiarism

Copyright and plagiarism are distinct but related issues. Whereas copyright establishes legal rights of intellectual property ownership, plagiarism is a professional and ethical concern that is not itself illegal, though it can have significant consequences. According to Wikipedia, "Plagiarism is the representation of another author's language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions as one's own original work." Avoiding plagiarism is generally accomplished by providing accurate attribution or citation, giving credit where it is due. Attribution is not required or even mentioned in copyright law, though it is generally recognized as a good practice. It's possible to violate copyright without plagiarizing (such as by reproducing a protected work with attribution), and to plagiarize without violating copyright law (such as by reproducing public domain or unprotected work without attribution). Authors should be aware of both concerns and careful to avoid violations.

More information and resources about plagiarism are available on the College Readiness Skills and Resources Plagiarism page.

Finding Usable Content

One strategy for avoiding potentially complicated copyright problems is to identify content that may be freely used, either because it's in the public domain (no copyright) or because it is licensed for reuse.

  • Use Google to find reusable web content: Google enables searching by "Usage rights" from the Advanced Search and Advanced Image Search pages, which can reveal images and other web content that may be reused. Terms of use, such as a requirement of attribution, may apply.
  • Creative Commons (CC): Creative Commons is a non-profit organization devoted to expanding the depth and breadth of creative works available for others to legally build upon and to share through the maintenance and application of open licenses. CC-licensed content is reusable, subject to requirements for attribution (BY), limits on commercial use (NC), derivative licensing (SA), and ability to create and share derivatives (ND). See "Introduction to Creative Commons" (video, 15 min.) for a brief overview.
  • OpenVerse (formerly CC Search) is a tool that allows openly licensed and public domain images to be discovered and used.
  • CAA Image Sources and Rights Clearance Agencies: The College Art Association maintains this list of sources of free images suitable for use in scholarly publications and teaching, in addition to prominent fee-based image banks (such as Getty Images).
  • Open Image Collections: The Open Image Collections is a collection of digital image sources suitable for teaching, learning, and research. Sources include museum digital collections, stock images, photo archives, design resources and image search engines.

Fair Use Resources

Fair use is an important provision in U.S. copyright law that balances the rights of users with those of content creators/owners. Fair use is incredibly common; examples include quotations and thumbnail images. Fair use determinations are based on four factors: the purpose and character of the use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount and substantiality of the portion taken, and the effect of the use on the potential market for the work. The resources below may be useful when considering fair use for scholarly purposes: