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.

Write & Cite


Accurately citing your sources will resolve potential plagiarism issues (see Plagiarism tab), but it's also necessary to understand the basics of copyright law so that you don't infringe on someone else's intellectual property rights. In essence, copyright protects the creators of original works from unauthorized use of their work. Ideas and facts can't be copyrighted, but expressions of ideas, such as books, photographs and music are protected by copyright, even if not formally published and even if you don't see a copyright symbol © on the work. (See the list of what is copyright-protected below.)

Given the ownership protections of copyright law, how can you legally and ethically use the expressions of others in your own work without contacting the owner for permission?  Fortunately, the U.S. Copyright Law specifies certain limitations on copyright, the four criteria of fair use, to facilitate and enhance the educational process. The fair use criteria can sometimes override the rights of a creator if you apply them in a thoughtful, reasonable manner and give proper attribution (cite the work). See the following section, What is Fair Use?, for further information.

Copyright information for Faculty:  Faculty Resources Guide

  • the purpose and character of the use: Does your use transform or offer something beyond the original work? Transformative uses are more likely to be considered fair use than verbatim transcriptions. Are you using the work for commercial (for profit) or for educational (non-profit) use? Educational uses receive more protections under fair use than uses that relate to purchase.
  • the nature of the copyrighted work: Has the work been published and is it still in print? Use of published works and works that are out of print are more likely to be considered fair use. Is the work more factual or more creative? Factual works are more likely to be considered fair use.
  • the amount of the work used: Is the amount of the work you intend to use reasonable? The smaller the amount used, the more likely that it will be considered fair use. Is the information you are using the "heart", or most important, part of the work? Using the most significant part is less likely to be considered fair use than sections that are not central.
  • the commercial effect:Will the work, as you intend to use it, appeal to the same audience as the work itself? Works that are "re-purposed" or are designed to appeal to a different audience are more likely to be considered fair use.

As you can see, assessing fair use is never clear cut! If you're not sure whether you can use a resource for a project or presentation or how much you can use, ask your friendly librarian.

Works of original authorship that have been "fixed in tangible form" [17 USC Sec.102(a)] in the following categories:

  • Literary works
  • Pantomimes, choreographic works
  • Pictorial, graphic, sculptural works
  • Sound recordings
  • Motion pictures, other AV works
  • Computer programs
  • Compilations, derivative works
  • Architectural works

Copyright does not protect:

  • Ideas, concepts, principles, procedures, systems, methods of operation, discoveries or devices; but once fixed in tangible form as descriptions, explanations or illustrations, they are protected
  • Improvisational speeches or performance that have not been written down or recorded
  • Lists of ingredients (not whole recipes, which are copyrighted)
  • Common knowledge: facts, anatomical features, standard calendars, height and weight charts, lists or tables from public documents, or other information that contains no original authorship

Materials in the public domain that are therefore not copyright-protected; use this handy slider to determine if a work is still copyright protected.

In general, copyright exists from the moment the work is created, and copyright registration may not be needed.

More information about copyright registration can be found here: Copyright Registration FAQs.

It's always nice to find a bargain, and in some cases, there are works you can use for any purpose, including your own personal blog or website, for free! But remember, it's always best to give credit where credit is due: cite the source unless the source specifically states that you don't need to. Here are some examples of free resources:


CA Campus Address: Library Bastyr University 4106 Sorrento Valley Blvd. San Diego, CA 92121 Phone:(858) 246-9714 | Email: | Text:(425) 947-2486

WA Campus AddressLibrary Bastyr University 14500 Juanita Dr NE Kenmore, WA 98028 |  Phone:(425) 602-3020 | | Text:(425) 947-2486 | Chat: Chat with a Librarian

 Bastyr Library content may be used, remixed, tweaked, and built upon non-commercially, as long as BU is credited, and new creations are licensed under the identical terms.