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Using Copyrighted, Creative Commons, and Public Domain Materials
Using Copyrighted, Creative Commons, and Public Domain Materials

Using Copyrighted, Creative Commons, and Public Domain Materials Activity: Is It Legal?: Copyright, Fair Use, and Creative Commons

Instructions for Your Students

What's Going on Today

The world is your oyster. Except that oysters don't come with instructions. Whether you know it or not (and we bet you do), you're online creating, publishing, and using other people's creative juices to make your own smoothies. If you've ever come across a really cool pic that you wanted to use for a collage or a school report, and didn't know whether using it was legal or not, you are not alone. Today we'll be learning about when and how you can use, share, and modify other people's creative works.


When your instructor asks you to go to the websites below, open them in your browser.

Copyright: You can't change or distribute these, not without permission, or outside of "fair use" (basically as in, for education and not for sale). Copyright usually lasts for 70 years after the death of the author or artist of the material.

  • What is copyright?
  • An example of copyrighted materials: photo from 2012 Avengers movie (Check out the copyright in the caption and respect the © – but note that lots of materials are copyrighted even if they don't display the © symbol.)

Creative Commons: You can use Creative Commons materials as long as you give credit where it's due (a.k.a. cite the genius mastermind who created it). Sometimes you can change these goodies, and sometimes even use them to gain a tidy profit (like if you put a Creative Commons painting on a T-shirt that you sell).

Public Domain: Yippppeeeee! Free for all. In other words, these materials are usually super old or belong to the Man (as in, the government). That means you can use them without getting anybody's permission, change them as much as you want, and even sell them to make money.

University of Maine at Farmington Copyright Website. Skim through what they have to say.

The "Is it copyright infringement?" game. Test your knowledge, then discuss these questions:

  1. What is copyright? What does it protect?
  2. What is a "fair use" provision? Try to explain this in your own words.
  3. What questions in the "Is it copyright infringement?" game tripped you up?
  4. Did you learn anything that surprised you? Were you surprised about what materials are copyrighted and what sorts of things cannot be copyrighted?
  5. Do you think you've ever accidentally committed copyright infringement? What would you do differently now that you've learned about copyright?

Creative Commons Kiwi.

License Your Creative Commons Work.