Copyright, Fair Use, Public Domain, and Creative Commons can be complicated and confusing. I created Dr. John's Eazy-Peazy Resource: Copyright and Creative Commons to outline resources associated with understanding these approaches to protecting and using intellectual property.


Copyright has, historically, provided protection against unauthorized copying or paraphrasing (plagiarism) and opportunities for authors to realize economic gain from their creative endeavors. As a result, copyright is complicated. Information about copyright basics, frequently asked questions, and more is provided by the United States Copyright Office. Here is a very abbreviated overview of United States copyright.

  • Copyright is a major consideration for any creative work.
  • With copyright, the owner/creator/designated agent(s) has the exclusive right to copy, distribute, display, and perform their work.
  • Copyright is automatic. No notice of copyright is required.
  • Copyright lasts a LONG time—70 years after the death of the author or 95 years for works owned by companies.


Plagiarism is the unauthorized / uncited copying / paraphrasing of another author's work. Sometimes the line between intentional and inspired is hard to discern. Just ask Ivanna Trump! This article may be useful.
James Lethem. "The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagerism". Harper's Magazine, February 2007. Read online or download and read as a .PDF file.

Copyright: Helpful resources

Copyright Advisory Office Columbia University Libraries
Addresses issues surrounding the use of scholarly materials by faculty and students in the course of research, teaching and communicating scholarship.

Bound by Law?
Written and illustrated by Keith Aoki, James Boyle, and Jennifer Jenkins. Duke Center for the Study of the Public Domain. Translates copyright law into plain English in the context of a graphic novel. Comments on the most pressing issues facing law, art, property and an increasingly digital world of remixed culture. The plot concerns Akiko, a filmmaker who wants to capture a day in the life of New York City. She learns about copyright basics, including fair use and public domain. She also learns about the increasing pressure for any creator to obtain rights to use copyrighted materials, even for incidental uses where such rights were not required in the past.

Copyright Timeline: A History of Copyright in the United States
The Statute of Anne (1710) established principles of an author's ownership of copyright and provided a fixed term of protection for copyrighted works (fourteen years). Since then, U.S. law has been revised to broaden the scope of copyright, change the term of copyright protection, and address new technologies. This timeline details some of the important highlights.

Copyright and Intellectual Property Issues
Maintained by The Association of Research Libraries. Provides web-based information about copyright and fair use.

Copyright: Challenges presented by digital media

The idea, and practice, of creating with new media works is intriguing with regard to copyright. What problems might one encounter? What models are already in place? What potential models are available to guide future thinking? How should we consider copyright when the model upon which it is based, does not, arguably, fit into the current social, technological, and market realities of the day? Cory Doctorow argues

No business model, art form, or practice has an inherent right to exist: it has to fit in with the social, technological, and market realities of its day. . . . Technology enables creativity, community, art, and love. Crippling it to save someone's outmoded business-model is a crime against humanity ("Foreward." Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture. Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky that Subliminal Kid, ed. Cambridge, The MIT Press, 2008. xi)

Of DJ culture as an archival impulse, Paul Miller (aka DJ Spooky that Subliminal Kid) says . . .

Lay one metaphor onto the other, remix, and press play. The sampling machine can handle any sound, and any expression. You just have to find the right edit points in the sound envelope—it's that structure thing come back as downloadable shareware for the informationally perplexed (Miller 6).

Form and function, fact and fiction, art and architecture—all woven into a testimony of human reconstruction in media (Miller 8).

The remix becomes "faction" (Miller 9).

We live in an era where quotation and sampling operate on such a deep level that the archaeology of what can be called "knowledge" floats in a murky realm between the real and the unreal. Look at The Matrix as an updated version of Plato's cave, a parable piece in his Republic written more than two thousand years ago, but still resonant with the idea of living in a world of illusion (Miller 11).

Think of DJ culture as a kind of archival impulse applied to a kind of hunter-gather milieu—textual poaching, becomes zero-paid, becomes no-logo, becomes brand x. It's that interface thing again, but this time around the mind-brain interface becomes an emergent system of large-scale economies of expression (Miller 13).

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA; enacted into law 28 October 1998) was intended to stop illegal copying of digital content (digital piracy of movies, recordings, and software). Read an overview of The Digital Millennium Copyright Act

Read the final version (Enrolled Bill) as passed by both Houses

Download a copy of The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (in PDF format)

Among the Act's provisions is one that protects internet service providers from copyright infringement in digital contexts, including allowing service providers to remove content from individual web sites that appears to involve copyright infringement (the so called "safe harbor provision").

Supported by the software and entertainment industries, as well as internet service providers, The Digital Millennium Copyright Act was opposed by librarians, scientists, and academics. In a report entitled "Unintended Consequences: Four Years under the DMCA," The Electronic Frontier Foundation argues the Act has

  1. "Chilled" the legitimate free-speech activities of journalists, publishers, scientists, students, programmers, and members of the public
  2. Granted copyright owners "the power to unilaterally eliminate the public's fair use rights"
  3. Impeded competition and innovation. For example, Sony uses the Act to protect their monopoly on Playstation video game consoles as well as their "regionalization" systems that limits users from playing games legitimately in other countries

The Anti-DMCA website archives information opposing The Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Learn more

A report released 3 August 2007 by MCPS-PRS Alliance, which represents music rights holders, and Big Champagne, an online media measurement company, concluded that the music industry "should embrace illegal websites" because torrent and peer-to-peer filing sharing sites and services could not be stopped. Brand loyalty (and revenue) could be built through increased concert ticket sales as well as the sales of licensed products at digital sources (YouTube, Google, etc.) currently beyond the reach of the record industry. Read the article, "Music Industry 'Should Embrace Illegal Websites'," at the Financial website.

Copyright: Fair use

Section 107, Limitations on Exclusive Rights: Fair Use, of The Copyright Act of 1976 provided exemptions to the exclusive rights built into the copyright law. Fair Use is one. Here are the basic considerations regarding Fair Use . . .

Nothwithstanding the provisions of Section 106 and 106A the fair use of copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction of copies or phonorecords or by any means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is fair use the factors to be considered shall include:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commerical nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

Eric Faden. A Fair(y) Use Tale
Bucknell professor Faden cuts together words and scenes from various Disney animated films to present a funny and articulate lesson on copyright: what it is and how it works. In the process, he demonstrates fair use, using content from one of the strongest corporate voices for even more restrictive copyright laws.

Lawrence Lessig. Laws that choke creativity
A TED talk to make you think.

Kristen Bialik. Creativity Endures: The 'Amen Break' and Copyright Law
A 6-second drum solo with its own Wikipedia page? Yes, and here's the story.

Bryan Boyce. Walt Disney's Taxi Driver
This reimagining of Martin Scorsese's classic film "Taxi Driver" follows Mickey Mouse-obsessed Travis Bickle as he looks for love in a rapidly transforming New York City. A fair use parody by Boyce.

DJ Danger Mouse. Dangermouse—Encore
1968: The Beatles release "The White Album"
2003: Jay-Z releases "The Black Album"
2004: DJ Danger Mouse mashes both into "The Grey Album"
This is the video.

Brett Gaylor. RIP! A Remix Manifesto (2009)
Filmmaker Brett Gaylor explores issues of copyright in the information age, mashing up the media landscape of the 20th century and shattering the wall between users and producers.
See also Girl Talk creates a mashup
A sample from Gaylor's film.

Primer on Copyright Liability and Fair Use
Maintained by the Digital Media Law Project, this legal primer discusses copyright and fair use in the context of citizen media.

Stanford Copyright & Fair Use—Measuring Fair Use: The Four Factors
Maintained by Stanford University Libraries. Details the four factors (the purpose and character of your use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount and substantiality of the portion taken, and the effect of the use upon the potential market) generally focused on fair use of copyrighted materials.

Summaries of Fair Use Cases
Cases involving text, artwork and audiovisual, Internet, music, and parody: important factors, fair use and not.

Fair Use
Maintained by the Center for Social Media. Provides information about codes and best practices for Fair Use in several different situations. Also provides teaching materials.

Statement of Best Practices for Fair Use in Documentary Film provided by The Society for Cinema and Media Studies. Download as a .PDF

The Society for Cinema and Media Studies' Statement of Best Practices for Fair Use in Teaching for Film and Media Educators. Downloads as a .PDF

Creative Commons

Creative Commons (CC) provides relief from copyright, as well as a model for how creative works might be shared. Essentially, Creative Commons allows photographers, artists, educators, etc. to license their work with only "some rights reserved." Basically, these licenses give you permission in advance to use the works for your own creative endeavors.

Creative Commons
Website for Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools.

Samuel Wright. Creative Commons for Music Educators
An interactive booklet focusing on Australian "fair play" ("fair use" in the United States); provides good information for educators regarding what materials may be used and how to avoid copyright infringements.

Search for Creative Commons content

OpenPhoto Stock photos licensed for free commercial and non-commercial use

Flickr Creative Commons Pool
Thousands of Creative Commons photos are available on this popular photo-sharing site.

PD Photo
Thousands of photos contributed to the public domain

Open Clip Art
Public domain clip art

An archive of freely available, "some rights reserved" sound clips.

The Prelinger Archive
Thousands of films from the Prelinger archive of "ephemeral" films.

Works cited

Paul Miller aka DJ Spooky that Subliminal Kid. "In through the Out Door." Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture. Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky that Subliminal Kid, ed. Cambridge, The MIT Press, 2008.)

Dr. John


I created Dr. John's Eazy-Peazy Resources to support my teaching and creative endeavors. I hope you will find them valuable and welcome your input. My contact information is below. Thanks for visiting!

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