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Copyright & Multimedia

What Can I Use?

  1. Materials in the Public Domain.
    Works that are in the public domain are no longer, or never were, protected by copyright law. For example, anything created by the federal government is public domain -- everybody owns it! Also, almost any work published on or before December 31, 1922 is not protected. Some things, like data, methods, or processes are simply never protected. On the whole, though, there is not very much multimedia content that is in the public domain. Visit Wikipedia's entry on the Public Domain for more information or the Stanford Copyright & Fair Use site’s Public Domain section.

  2. Materials with a Usable Creative Commons License.
    The Creative Commons is a non-profit organization created to facilitate sharing content by creating an organized system of permissions. By marking your work with specific Creative Commons symbols, they provide ready-made licenses that tell other people exactly how the work can and cannot by used. Today, you will see these symbols and licenses throughout the web. Be warned that there is a wide range of licensing and permissions -- do not assume that all licenses are the same. Some users may allow you to use their images/music/video for non-profit use, but not for commercial projects. It is also common for most copyright holders to insist on attribution somewhere in your project. Learn more about the various licenses here.

  3. Materials with Permission from the Copyright Holder.
    Direct, verifiable permission from the real copyright holder is the ultimate safe bet. However, this can be difficult or time-consuming to obtain, and may not be necessary.

Can I Claim Fair Use?

"Fair use is the right, in some circumstances, to [use] copyrighted material without asking permission or paying for it. Fair use enables the creation of new culture, and keeps current copyright holders from being private censors." (Center for Social Media, American University)

Under the fair use doctrine, you may use limited portions of copyrighted material in your work without the permission of the copyright owner. Before using media under the fair use doctrine, however, you will need to evaluate whether your use qualifies as fair, which must be done on a case-by-case basis taking into consideration the following four factors:

  1. The purpose and character of your use
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion taken
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market

In short, the fair use determination will depend on how much of the copyrighted work you are using and how you are using it. The sites listed below explain these four factors in depth and will help you evaluate whether your use qualifies as fair use.

Learn More About Fair Use

Tests for Fair Use

There are limits to using copyrighted materials, even if you are a student or a faculty member. To be safe, try out some of these resources to evaluate that you are using copyrighted materials "fairly":


Make sure that you understand the basics of Copyright and Fair Use before you consider using third-party multimedia content for your own projects! The resources below are meant as search aids. Materials that you find through these services are likely to be protected. It is your responsibility to determine that your use of 3rd party materials is legal.

AP Archive

"AP offers footage for multiple uses from a number of important collections owned by AP Television News or AP partners. This is the most complete historical and contemporary collection of international TV news footage from the Associated Press. Over 20,000 stories are added each year covering news, entertainment, people, lifestyles and more" (The Associated Press, 2010a).
Licensing fees for use may apply.


"The stock, archival, and news footage search engine.  Footage.net is the world’s largest online aggregator of stock footage databases, providing serious footage researchers with free access to the most comprehensive roster of stock, archival and news footage indexes online. At Footage.net, you can search 30 of the world’s top stock footage archives with one search, find better content and save time" (NPG, Inc., 2010).

The Internet Archive

"The Archive's Moving Images library of free movies, films, and videos. This library contains thousands of digital movies uploaded by Archive users which range from classic full-length films, to daily alternative news broadcasts, to cartoons and concerts. Many of these videos are available for free download" (The Internet Archive, 2001).

The Library of Congress American Memory Project

"American Memory provides free and open access through the Internet to written and spoken words, sound recordings, still and moving images, prints, maps, and sheet music that document the American experience. It is a digital record of American history and creativity. These materials, from the collections of the Library of Congress and other institutions, chronicle historical events, people, places, and ideas that continue to shape America, serving the public as a resource for education and lifelong learning" (The Library of Congress, n.d.).


"Get Media enables independent producers to pull from a wide range of creative content available under Creative Commons licenses" (Outhink Media, Inc., n.d.b). "Creative Commons licensed content such as videos, images and music are available to the public for free legal sharing, reuse, and remixing" (Outhink Media, Inc., n.d.a).  “To help you find exactly what you are looking for you can select the exact license, media type and source” (Outhink Media, Inc., n.d.b).

WPA Film Library

"A leading source of stock footage, The WPA Film Library, is proud to offer one of the largest and most diverse libraries in the industry. A comprehensive online experience that allows clients to search, preview, and license footage directly from our website" (MPI Media Group, 2009).
There are many other places to find images video on the Web. Please remember to provide proper attribution to any materials you gather in your works cited.


Make sure that you understand the basics of Copyright and Fair Use before you consider using third-party multimedia content for your own projects! The resources below are meant as search aids. Materials that you find through these services are likely to be protected. It is your responsibility to determine that your use of 3rd party materials is legal.


"Audiofarm helps you broadcast your audio files and connect with other people. It´s the best and easiest way to find new and interesting music, audio recordings, people and friends from around the world."


"BeatPick.com is a one-stop music licensing shop. This means you can immediately obtain master and synchronization rights to use a song in your production. You can license music instantly and online or you can ask us to look for music on your behalf (for free!). Our music licensing system is quick, easy and efficient."

CASH Music

"CASH Music is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Our software will provide a set of open source applications that will provide musicians the ability to communicate, promote and sell products directly to their audience. We want our software and engineers to set the pace and provide an alternative to the media giants."


"ccMixter is a community music site featuring remixes licensed under Creative Commons where you can listen to, sample, mash-up, or interact with music in whatever way you want."


"Jamendo is the world's #1 platform for free and legal music downloads. Available in seven languages, it offers the largest catalog of music under Creative Commons licenses. For artists, it's an easy and efficient way to publish, share and promote their music, and also to make money, through ad revenue sharing and commercial partnerships."

Netlabels Collection at the Internet Archive

"Welcome to the Netlabels collection at the Internet Archive. This collection hosts complete, freely downloadable/streamable, often Creative Commons-licensed catalogs of 'virtual record labels'. These 'netlabels' are non-profit, community-built entities dedicated to providing high quality, non-commercial, freely distributable MP3/OGG-format music for online download in a multitude of genres"


"Opsound is a gift economy in action, an experiment in applying the model of free software to music. Musicians and sound artists are invited to add their work to the Opsound pool using a copyleft license developed by Creative Commons. Listeners are invited to download, share, remix, and reimagine."

Additional Resources:


Make sure that you understand the basics of Copyright and Fair Use before you consider using third-party multimedia content for your own projects! The resources below are meant as search aids. Materials that you find through these services are likely to be protected. It is your responsibility to determine that your use of 3rd party materials is legal.

AP Images

"AP Images, a division of The Associated Press, is one of the world's largest collections of historical and contemporary imagery. Browse AP's comprehensive archive with millions of images in entertainment, sports, news, archival and creative content" (The Associated Press, 2010b).

Licensing fees for use may apply.



"ARTstor is a nonprofit digital library of more than one million images in the arts, architecture, humanities, and social sciences with a suite of software tools to view, present, and manage images for research and pedagogical purposes. Our community-built collections comprise contributions from outstanding museums, photographers, libraries, scholars, photo archives, and artists and artists' estates"(ARTstor, Inc., 2010).
On-campus access or off-campus with access login to this database only.

Flickr Creative Commons

"Many Flickr users have chosen to offer their work under a Creative Commons license, and you can browse or search through content under each type of license."

Google Image Search

"The most comprehensive image search on the web"(Google, 2010).

Life Photo Archive

"Search millions of photographs from the LIFE photo archive, stretching from the 1750s to today. Most were never published and are now available for the first time through the joint work of LIFE and Google" (Google, 2008).

Time & Life Pictures

"Time & Life Pictures represents some of the world's most recognizable imagery. On this website, we offer content from the finest photojournalists, documenting past and present political and cultural events, as well as celebrities and the American experience" (Getty Images, Inc., 2010).

US National Archives Photostream

"The National Archives has joined Flickr to share images of National Archives archival photographs and documents in a new way with National Archives researchers, potential researchers, and the public. All of the U.S. National Archives' images that are part of The Flickr Commons are marked ‘no known copyright restrictions.’ This means the U.S. National Archives is unaware of any copyright restrictions on the publication, distribution, or re-use of those particular photos. Their use restriction status in our online catalog is 'unrestricted.' Therefore, no written permission is required to use them" (Yahoo, Inc., 2010).

Wikimedia Commons

"Wikimedia Commons is a media file repository making available public domain and freely-licensed educational media content (images, sound and video clips) to everyone, in their own language. It acts as a common repository for the various projects of the Wikimedia Foundation, but you do not need to belong to one of those projects to use media hosted here. The repository is created and maintained not by paid archivists, but by volunteers. The scope of Commons is set out on the project scope pages."