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Copyright & Attribution

What is copyright in the U.S.?

Copyright is a form of legal protection established by U.S. law (Title 17, US. Code) that provides authors of "original works of authorship," specific control over the reproduction and distribution of their work(s). Copyright protection takes effect immediately once an original work of authorship has been "fixed in a tangible form of expression" and does not require registration with the U.S. Copyright Office before these rights are conferred. This protection applies to both published and unpublished works.

Adapted from the U.S. Copyright Office Circular 1, Copyright Basics.

How long is a work protected by copyright?

In order to determine if a work is protected under copyright, you must determine whether the work is published and the initial date of publication. At this time, works created after January 1, 1978, are protected for the life of the author or creator plus 70 years. This also extends to the death of the last surviving author for joint authorship. For anonymous, pseudonyms, or corporate works, copyright protection lasts for 95 years or 120 years after its creation. Never assume that copyright protection has expired unless the work was published before 1924.

How to request permission to use copyrighted material?

The first step to requesting permission to use a copyrighted material is identifying the copyright holder. When seeking permission, it is important to track your requests and maintain a record of any permissions that you receive. Include the following information when you are requesting permission:

  1. Your name, address, telephone and email address;
  2. Your position/title and name of the university;
  3. The date of your request;
  4. Exact material to be used, giving the amount or portions(s) of the work to be used;
  5. A detailed description of the proposed use of the copyrighted material; such as, when it will be used, how many people will have access, how long it will be available).

The following list outlines legal exceptions for using copyrighted material:

  1. The work is in the public domain;
  2. The permission is granted through a Creative Commons license;
  3. Fair use or other exceptions that are covered by the Copyright Act for educational purposes.

For additional information on requesting permission, please see the How to Obtain Permission Guide from the U.S. Copyright Office.

Fair use of Copyright

​Fair Use is a provision of U.S. law that allows you to use copyright protected material for: criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. But only if the use meets certain guidelines, like:

  1. the purpose and character of the use (commercial vs. nonprofit, educational)
  2. the nature of the work (factual vs. creative)
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used
  4. the effect of the use on the potential market


Attribution refers to acknowledging the ideas of others and giving credit where credit is due. It's essential and critical to the scholarly record. Failure to attribute the work of others may be considered academic misconduct. So please be sure that always provide complete, clear citations that readers can follow to earlier works. 


Acknowledgements show appreciation for the support of others. Such support may not reflected in the formal scholarly record, for instance, like financial support, feedback and encouragement. It's often not required, but usually the right thing to do to maintain a good cooperation with others. 


University of Pittsburgh. (2021). Understanding Academic Integrity, Research, and Classroom Ethics. Retrieved December 22, 2021, from