How does copyright law apply to media I find on the web?
Creative work is automatically copyrighted when it is fixed in a tangible medium of expression. This means that when a content creator posts their work on the web, they automatically own the copyright to that content. Others can't just take it and use it for their own work unless a) they can clearly demonstrate their use constitutes fair use, or b) the content creator has chosen to make the work free, public domain, or assigned a license that specifies how others can use it.
How can I incorporate images, video, music, and other media into my work without violating copyright?
This section of the copyright guide points you to web resources for media that are free, in the public domain, or have clear licenses, such as Creative Commons licenses, that specify how you may and may not use the work. Look at each resource, and each individual work, carefully to ensure you understand the terms.
There are sub-sections in this portion of the guide to help you find:
A couple of notes:
What is Creative Commons?
Creative Commons (CC) is an organization that allows content creators to assign licenses to their work specifying how it may or may not be used by others. Creators can place restrictions on things such as commercial v. non-commercial use of a work, or whether a work can be modified. These restrictions can range from relatively strict to very lenient. Creators can even place their works in the public domain using CC0 licenses if they wish. The types of CC licenses are described on the Creative Commons website.
Whenever you see a work with a CC license you will know exactly how you may and may not use that work.
What if I post my own original work to the web?
If you post your own original work to the web, you automatically own the copyright to that work according to U.S. copyright law! If others want to use it, they will either have to gain your permission or demonstrate their use is fair use.
But just like any other content creator, you have the option of assigning a license to your work that specifies in advance how you do and do not want others to use it. Creative Commons licenses are an easy and widely-accepted way to do this. Placing a license on your work is a great way to promote broader use and creativity.