VCU Libraries

Research Guides

Copyright for Undergraduates


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. 

How Does Copyright Affect You?

We live in an information society. Information has value, and it makes a big impact on our economy and our culture. This impact is largely driven by new technologies like the Internet: the amount of content available online grows every day, and sharing it is easier than ever. The Internet is full of knowledge and creative works that are shared by their creators and used by millions of others, and an increasing amount of research now takes place online.

Much of the content you will find on the web falls under the category of intellectual property, or creations of the mind. Intellectual property does not work quite the same way as physical property. For example, if you own a car, no one else can use it unless you grant them permission, and you don't have to grant permission to anyone. However, there are circumstances where intellectual property can be used without permission of the owner. Knowing when and how you can use intellectual property (and when and how you can't) helps you make the most of the vast amount of knowledge available to you and steer clear of legal troubles.

Copyright is the type of intellectual property you are most likely to encounter online and in your every day life. In fact, you interact with copyright every day—the music you listen to, the books you read, the videos you watch online: all of these things are copyrighted, and copyright affects how you are able to use and share them. You are also an owner of many copyrights. The photos you take with your phone, the drawings you make in the margins of your notes, sometimes even the text messages you send: all of these can be copyrighted. By learning more about copyright, you can be a more active and responsible member of our information society.