Copyright & Multimedia: Introduction

Copyright is very important to consider as you create multimedia projects at Georgetown University. There are times when you will want to use someone else's work to enhance your project: artwork, photographs, graphics, audio recordings, music, film, and video. Should you just grab whatever you want off the Internet? While It is very easy to download all types of media, it is irresponsible to take whatever you want without evaluating its copyright status. Moreover, if you infringe on someone else's copyright, you could be liable for damages.

Under U.S. copyright law, creators have exclusive rights to their work, including reproducing, distributing, displaying, performing, and creating derivative works. There are, however, a few exceptions to these exclusive rights that may allow you to use copyrighted works without permission or license fees under certain circumstances. See What Can I Use and Can I Claim Fair Use for more information on these exceptions.

Copyright Basics

Here are a few principles to keep in mind as you choose materials for your multimedia project.

Copyright is Automatic

Many different types of works are protected by copyright, including photographs, poetry, videos, software code, video games, choreography, sheet music, recorded music, and more. Once a work is put into a fixed format, the work is protected under U.S. copyright law.

The © Is Not Required for a Work to Be Copyrighted

Works published in the U.S. on or after March 1, 1989, are protected by copyright, with or without a copyright notice. The rules for unpublished works, works published abroad, and works published before March 1, 1989, are set out in the Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States chart from Cornell University.

Attribution Is Not a Substitute for Permission

Giving credit to a creator does not entitle you to use that work. Proper attribution of your sources is critical for academic integrity; it is not, however, a substitute for copyright permission. 

Publicly Available Does Not Mean Public Domain

Public domain has a very specific meaning within the law -- it refers to works that are not protected by copyright law, usually because the copyright has expired. Works that are freely available online on a publicly accessible site are rarely in the public domain. Read more about the Public Domain.

What You Can Use When You Create Multimedia Projects

Introduction  / What Can I Use? /  Can I Claim Fair Use?
Video  /  Audio  /  Images