Please note that this webpage is not intended as legal advice, but provides practical guidelines in response to frequently asked questions on this topic. For assistance with copyright please contact a Librarian, or, you may find it helpful to consult with an attorney or other specialist for further input.

Why does copyright matter?
Do I own what I create?
How do I know if I have the right to use something in my video, podcast, presentation, or paper?
How do I find music to use in videos and podcasts?
How do I find images to use in videos, presentations, and papers?

Why does copyright matter?

U.S. Copyright law is intended to protect people (including you!) when they create original work or something new. Its purpose is to encourage advances in the arts and sciences by protecting individuals’ rights to benefit from the work they create. The College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University have a Copyright Policy which governs our work.

Do I own what I create? ( Infographic)

  1. Did you create the item as part of a publishing agreement?

    • No -> Proceed to Step 2

    • Yes -> Review the publishing agreement to see what rights you retain.


  2. Did you create the item while employed and while working on the job?

    • No -> Proceed to Step 3

    • Yes -> Review your employer’s policies on intellectual property.


  3. Was the item self-created but includes non-original material?

    • No -> Proceed to Step 4

    • Yes, but I know I have the right to use the material -> Proceed to Step 4

    • Yes, and I don’t know if I have the right to use the material -> Proceed to Copyright Workflow and if you do proceed to step 4


  4. Are you using someone’s likeness in your creation such as a video or audio clip, or a photo?
    • Yes -> Get a signed Release Form.
    • No -> Congratulations! As the author/creator of an original creative work you automatically own the copyright to it. You have exclusive control over reproduction, distribution, and/or performance. As an author of copyrighted material, you can designate a Creative Commons license for your work so others can reuse it following the rules you establish.

How do I know if I have the right to use something in my video, podcast, presentation, or paper?

It’s a complicated process to know if you have the right to reuse something. Just because something is on the internet doesn’t mean you can automatically reuse it. To ensure you have the legal right to use an item (image, music clip, video, idea, etc.), use the workflow below to determine what rights apply to the item. Please remember this applies only to things covered by U. S. Copyright law, meaning materials created in the USA. Materials copyrighted in other countries have different laws and certain treaties (example: NAFTA) supersede that country’s copyright law. From the United States Copyright Office’s FAQ: “The United States has copyright relations with most countries throughout the world, and as a result of these agreements, we honor each other’s citizens’ copyrights. However, the United States does not have such copyright relationships with every country. For a listing of countries and the nature of their copyright relations with the United States, see Circular 38a, International Copyright Relations of the United States.”

In 2020 Congress passed the “CASE Act (Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act).” This act makes it easier for someone to claim copyright enfringment and be awarded up to $30,000. The CASE act can be applied to individuals, including students, so it is very important to make sure you know if you have the right to use something. The CASE Act toolkit is a good resource for more information about this Act.

Copyright Workflow: Determining Permissions ( Infographic)

  1. Are you the creator?


  2. Are you making a copy?


  3. Is the item in the public domain:
    Was it published in the United States before 1923*


    Was it created by the United States Federal Government or a federal employee in the course of their work?

    *this is very nuanced so to truly know if your item is considered public domain you can read through the U.S. Copyright Office’s Renewal of Copyright circular.


  4. Is it under copyright:
    1) Is it a literary work, work of the visual arts, work of the performing arts, sound recording, a motion picture/audiovisual work or creative work in another digital format, 

    2) and, is it an original creative expression (example: a list of books written by women authors is not original or creative but an analysis of these books could be), 

    3) and, is it a fixed and tangible medium of expression (example: an improvised song or speech is not fixed)?

    • Yes -> Proceed to Step 5

    • No -> Copyright likely doesn’t apply and this item is likely ok to use. Note, though, that only a court of law can definitively say if something is under copyright, and since we aren’t lawyers we cannot advise you legally.


  5. Do you have permission or a license agreement (such as Creative Commons) granting you the right to use or reuse the item?
    Electronic collections such as subscription databases in a library have license agreements accompanying them which may grant a user some rights for reuse that wouldn't typically be allowed due to copyright. The organization paying the subscription, such as the CSB and SJU libraries, will have the license agreement and will be able to tell you what rights are included in the agreement. For example, Alexander Street Press allows reuse video content in student work of as long as the student doesn't make a profit off of the work. They still need to cite the video, similar to how they would cite text content, but the content through the library's subscription is available for use beyond "fair use." 

    If you're using something that has a Creative Commons license the rights owner has explicitly granted rights for reuse as long as their specific Creative Commons license terms are followed. 

    If there isn't a license agreement granting you rights you can contact the rights holder directly; tell them exactly what you want to do and the approval you're seeking. They can give you permission in writing which overrides copyright. 

    • No -> Proceed to Step 6

    • Yes – OK as long as your use falls within the license or permissions.


  6. Will you be using the item in the classroom in the context of noncommercial instruction or curriculum-based teaching by an educator to students at a nonprofit educational institution such as at CSB and SJU (a.k.a. the classroom use exemption ( 17 U.S.C. section 110(1)))?

    • No -> Proceed to Step 7

    • Yes – OK


  7. Fair use is complicated. The University of Minnesota’s Using Existing Works page can help you evaluate if your planned use qualifies for fair use. Can you make a fair use claim?
    • No -> Sorry, you cannot use this item.
    • Yes – OK

How do I find music to use in videos and podcasts?

YouTube Audio Library (which requires a Google account) offers a curated list of music and sound effects you can use in videos and podcasts as well as Copyright Claim which explains what happens if copyrighted material is found in a video on the platform.. BBC Sound Effects offers 16,000 sound effects files for use for personal, educational, or research purposes. Free Music Archive has a large collection of music files covered by Creative Commons licenses which are described in detail on Creative Commons: Legal Music For Videos. If you’re in a class using a hard drive from Instructional Technology you’ll find copyright free music on the device available for your use.

If you want to use music covered by copyright you’ll want to read about the Music Modernization Act, signed into law on October 11, 2018, describing copyright law specific to recorded music.

How do I find images to use in videos, presentations, and papers?

A guide to Finding and Using Images Ethically is available which does a deep-dive into this topic. Below are some common sources for freely available images but consider checking out the guide on this topic to learn more!

Wikimedia Commons lets you search for images and their creative commons license for use in projects. Another option is to use Google Advanced Image Search where you can indicate you only want to see images you’re able to reuse. More information on this feature is in the Google help article ” Find free-to-use images.” There are numerous lists of free image and video resources on the internet and Tech Radar’s list is just one example you can explore.

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