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Copyright & Licensing for Student Creators

So, copyright...

So, copyright gives you protection.

  • In the U.S., copyright is automatically applied* to any original creation or expression (a "work").
  • Copyright makes it easier for the creator or their employer** to make money by selling their works.
  • Copyright helps protect the author from having copies made of their works without permission. With copyright, a work can only be copied or used commercially if the owner gives permission***. If someone copies or uses a work without permission ("infringes"), the owner could take them to court and recover damages ($).
  • Copyright is applied differently in different countries****, depending on where the work was created and where it is being used.

* Copyright is automatic, but you may still want to register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office, because your ownership would become part of the public record and it may help support claims you bring against others for infringement.

** The "owner" of copyright is generally considered to be the person who created the work, but in some cases, if the creator was hired by an employer to create the work, then it may be considered work for hire, where the employer owns the copyright, and not the creator.

*** There is an exception to the rules of copyright, called fair use. This means that people can copy a very small amount of a work to use in reviews or in research reports, or in some situations, can use the work in educational settings.

**** The good news is, that there are agreements and protocols in place that help resolve issues with international copyright laws.


As the creator (and copyright owner), you decide how to license the work (how to allow others to use it).

Chart comparing traditional copyright (work cannot be used, adapted, copied or published without the creator’s permission); creative commons licensing (work may be used without permission, but only under certain circumstances; and public domain (work can be used, adapted, copied, and published completely without restrictions. No permission needed)

  • If you do nothing, Traditional Copyright will apply and no one will be able to use your work (except in fair use situations) without your express permission.

  • If you apply one of the Creative Commons licenses, you let people know when and how they can use your work; you are giving them permission without them having to contact you.

  • If you place your work in the Public Domain, people can use your work any way they want, and no permission is needed.

Copyright Made Simple

This guide is for your general information purposes only and not to be construed as legal advice. If you have legal questions, please consult with an attorney.

Creative Commons License
Unless otherwise stipulated, this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Content about licensing on this page was adapted, in part, from Lansing Community College's Library Research Guide on Open Educational Resources (OER) by Regina Gong, which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.