What Is Copyright?

What Are My Rights?

Using Others' Work

Copyright protects a wide range of materials such as books, articles, photographs, paintings, music, sound recordings, websites, emails; copyright can apply to any original work of authorship that is fixed in any tangible means of expression. Works are automatically protected, no copyright notice is required.

A copyright infringement may occur when you copy, display, perform, distribute or create a derivative version of a copyrightable work without the permission of the copyright holder.

Copyright law provides some exceptions to the rights of copyright owners. “Fair Use” is one such exception, but does not apply to all educational uses of copyrighted materials.

The library is able to consult with members of the Vanderbilt community on issues related to copyright, just Ask a Librarian.


Faculty engaged in teaching and publication. In the development of teaching tools and in publishing, faculty face multiple copyright issues in their work. The office of Scholarly Communications provides consultation and presentations on copyright related issues, such as Authors' Rights and Open Access. The library also provides assistance with reserve materials and copyright clearance.


Copyright plays a large part in students use and re-use of materials in their course of study and research. Misattribution of copyrighted materials is often characterized as plagiarism, which can be a concern for students. Subject Librarians are available to consult with students about copyrighted materials and best practices for citing others' work.


Q. If I am using copyrighted material for my course here at Vanderbilt, is that automatically Fair Use?
A. While educational use weighs in favor for fair use, not every educational use qualifies as fair. Whenever you use a copyrighted work, you must conduct a fair use analysis. You can use this Fair Use checklist (.pdf).

Q. May I post a copy of my own article online after it has been published in a journal?
A. In many cases you can. However, it is important to understand the terms of the publishing contract you have signed. Many contracts allow you to post a version of the article to the university repository or on a personal website. Library staff members can help you read through the terms of your contract—Ask a Librarian.

Q. I'd like to link to a YouTube video from my course website on Blackboard, what are the copyright implications, if any?
A. Linking to web content is generally fine. However, if you link to infringing material you may find it disappears before your class session. If you suspect material is infringing, you should locate an alternative source. Contact your library about finding a licensed copy.

Q. I have a bunch of articles I’d like to post for my course on Blackboard. Can anyone help me with that?
A. Each campus library has someone to help you. Library staff members will help you determine what needs to be licensed and what can be directly linked. We can also assist you with understanding licensing and any applicable fees. See our course reserve contact information.

Q. I’m not sure if I can use this image/paragraph/text in my forthcoming paper or presentation. Who can advise me about that?
A. Library staff can help Vanderbilt community members think through fair use or licensing options for their particular situations—Ask a Librarian.

Additional Resources

The use of library resources is governed by copyright law and license agreements. The library provides guidelines for using our digital content and the digital copyright compliance is covered in Vanderbilt's Computing Privileges and Responsibilities policy.