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The Virtual Center at Your Finger "Tips": Creative Commons Licensing

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Fair Use

To “use” a copyrighted work, you must either have the copyright holder’s permission, or you must qualify for a legal exception such as “fair use.” Fair Use is the legal, unauthorized use of copyrighted material, allowable under certain circumstances. Many educational and classroom use falls under fair use, but there are many images use cases that can be fair.

Fair use (Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright code) provides parameters for the legal use of copyrighted material without the permission of the copyright holder.

Four factors for determining fair use eligibility:

  • Purpose and character of use, including whether the use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes.
  • The nature of the copyrighted work. 
  • The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the work as a whole.
  • The effect of the use on the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. 

Public Domain

Images in the Public Domain are no longer under copyright protection and can be used freely. In general images published before 1923 are in the public domain in the United States  Learn more about copyright terms

There are four common ways that works arrive in the public domain:

  • the copyright has expired
  • the copyright owner failed to follow copyright renewal rules
  • the copyright owner deliberately places it in the public domain, known as “dedication,” or
  • copyright law does not protect this type of work. Learn more

The following databases and websites are great places to find public domain images, but be aware not all images found in these databases are in the public domain. 

Creative Commons Licenses

Images and Photos made available under a creative commons license are free to use, with varying restrictions. Creative Commons licenses are not an alternative to copyright. They work alongside copyright and enable owners to modify copyright terms to best suit their needs. 

You can search most image databases for creative commons licensed images.


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