VCU Libraries

Research Guides

Scientific Images

Purpose and Disclaimer

VCU Libraries provides faculty, researchers, and students with informative resources that can help guide them in the responsible use of copyrighted works and encourage them to exercise their fair use rights. However, we do not provide legal advice. For legal advice, please consult the Office of University Counsel. 

What Is Copyright?

Copyright is a form of legal protection granted to authors that gives them exclusive rights to their "original works of authorship" (Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 102)

United States copyright law has its foundation in Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution, where Congress was granted the power to "promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." Current US copyright law was established by the Copyright Act of 1976 (17 U.S.C. § 101 et seq.) and has been updated numerous times since then. 

Under US copyright law, authors are granted six exclusive rights:

  1. To make copies of the work
  2. To make new works based on the original copyrighted work
  3. To sell, distribute, rent, lease, or lend copies of the work
  4. To perform the work in public
  5. To display the work in public
  6. In the case of sound recordings, to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission (such as over the radio)

Those who want to use a copyrighted work in one of the ways listed above will need the permission of the author, unless their use falls under one of the exceptions to copyright law. Otherwise they are infringing upon the rights of the author and may be subject to legal actionAuthors can also choose to transfer some or all of their rights to others, temporarily or permanently, through the use of a license

How Can I Avoid Infringement?

Although copyright law has many exceptions for educational purposes, there's a big difference between what you can do in the classroom and what you can do outside of the classroom. When you are in the classroom, you are free to perform or display any copyrighted works that you have legally obtained. Playing videos and music, displaying images in your presentations, reading texts aloud—all of these are examples of things you can do in the classroom without any restriction. You can also include copyrighted content in homework assignments or papers you write, but be sure to attribute them properly. However, outside of the classroom, you are more limited in what you can do. This is especially important to keep in mind if you plan to copy and republish copyrighted works on the open web.

Not everything you find on the Internet can be copied and reused without restriction. Even if you do not see a copyright notice, it is likely that the work is copyrighted. However, there are many resources you can use to narrow your searching to content in the public domain or content that is available under a Creative Commons license. 

If a work appears online with a statement that it is licensed under Creative Commons or in the public domain, you should still consider whether or not these claims are trustworthy. Doing a small amount of research on the work's origins or avoiding using works that are clearly copyrighted (for example, works from recognizable publishers or corporations) in nonpermissable ways will help you avoid infringing copyright.

Fair(Y) Use Tale

Video explaining the various aspects of copyright in little different way.