Most content – articles, books, unpublished manuscripts, tables, figures, photographs – is owned (copyrighted) by someone.
There are laws and policies that affect reuse of such content for any purpose, such as putting material on the Web for a course, or reusing it in another work.
You may also need to consider that there could be multiple copyright owners for images: photographs of works of art may involve the rights of the art work’s creator/copyright holder as well as those of the photographer.
Copyright may be an issue when dealing with:
- Journal articles, or excerpts from them
- Books, or excerpts from them
- Databases and electronic journals
- Musical works, scores, lyrics, and sound recordings
- Pictorial/graphic works, art, sculpture, photographs
- Audiovisual works, motion pictures, videos, video games
- Computer software
Works are copyrighted by their creators as soon as put in a tangible form, even if the creator doesn’t add any special labels or identifiers to the work.
While some images, text, or web content may be marked with a copyright symbol or “all rights reserved,” these elements are not required in order for an image to be copyrighted.
For this reason, it is appropriate to assume that an image found on the web is copyrighted, even if it is not labeled or identified, unless it falls into one of the categories below.
Copyright is probably not an issue when dealing with:
Fair use provisions of U.S. copyright law allow use of copyrighted materials on a limited basis for specific purposes without permission of the copyright holder.
Our page on fair use includes how to determine whether a use is fair, how to find worry-free images, and what to do when fair use doesn’t apply. To learn more, try our self-teaching fair use web-based quiz.
Copyright law permits authors to reclaim their copyrights 35 years after transferring these rights. Reclaiming copyright allows the author to make new publishing arrangements, including making the work openly available on the web.
Since 2013, authors can reclaim copyrights they transferred (e.g. through an agreement with a publisher) on or after January 1, 1978. Authors interested in reclaiming copyright need to file a notice in advance.
Use the Authors Alliance/Creative Commons Termination of Transfer Tool to evaluate whether you can reclaim a copyright. You may need legal support to successfully file the appropriate notice.
For more information:
- Questions? Contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org
- MIT – Copyright Central
- MIT Information Policies/Intellectual Property
- Copyright at MIT, from the MIT Office of General Counsel (MIT only)
- See our podcasts & videos on copyright
- See our YouTube channel with talks on copyright/fair use
- University of Texas – Copyright Crash Course (a useful tutorial on copyright)
- American Library Association copyright tools including help with public domain, fair use, and exceptions for instructors.
- The Copyright Book: A Practical Guide by William S. Strong (1999 book published by the MIT Press and available online for members of the MIT community. You will need to register, creating an individual username and password, in order to access the book.)