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A guide to help CSU faculty, staff, and students answer questions about copyright. THE INFORMATION ON THIS GUIDE DOES NOT SERVE AS LEGAL ADVICE.

Student FAQs

How do I know if a work is copyrighted?

In the United States, sufficiently creative works fixed in a tangible form of expression that are created today automatically receive copyright protection for the life of the author plus 70 years. For recently created works, unless there is an open license on the work, it's a good idea to assume it's protected by copyright. For an older work, it can be hard to tell, since the rules have changed so much. You can use this chart from Cornell or ask a librarian for help. 

Is everything on the Internet available to be freely used?

Unfortunately, even though the Internet makes things easy to access, the things you find there are often still protected by copyright. 

Can I use a PDF version of my textbook that I found online?

If the textbook is an open textbook with an open license, then you can use and share the PDF freely. If the textbook is a commercial textbook, then using a free PDF version almost definitely violates copyright law, putting you at risk of liability if you use it. If you're having trouble affording your textbooks, ask a librarian for help getting access to the textbook through our collections.

Can I scan an entire book?

Unless the book is openly licensed or in the public domain (published before 1925), it is likely protected by copyright. Reproduction of the book without permission is a violation of copyright, but you can rely on fair use to make a judgement about copying parts of the book for educational purposes. However, you'll need to conduct the fair use analysis -- see the Fair Use tab for more guidance.

Is it illegal not to cite a source?

This is a good question! The difference between academic integrity and copyright violation is confusing to many people. Academic integrity principles, which are what tell us to cite sources and avoid plagiarism, are standards that academic institutions have adopted to avoid cheating and preserve the validity of student's academic work. Usually the punishments for violating academic integrity are determined by the institution. Copyright violation, on the other hand, is a legal framework that applies to everyone. Violating copyright can result in the violated party suing you. Remember: academic integrity is about giving credit, and copyright is about having permission for your use.

If I make a project/video/PowerPoint, can I use music from my favorite popular artist in the background?

The music of your favorite musical artist is probably protected by copyright, which means that using it in your project without permission could be a violation of his or her copyright. This is especially true if you will be sharing your project on a public platform, rather than just in class. However, you might be able to use some of the music if your use meaningfully contributes to your project (e.g. the project is about the music). You will need to conduct a fair use analysis -- see the Fair Use tab for more guidance.