DISCLAIMER: This information is for general purposes only, and is not intended to provide legal advice of any kind. Information may not be completely accurate or adequate for your individual situation. Information about this topic is always subject to change. The best advice is to do your own research before applying for a registered copyright, and also before using content that was created by someone else.

paper-1976101_640.png, by janjf93, via pixabay

Copyright owner: highlights

  • The content, not the idea, is the material that is copyrighted. (If you write an article, it is copyrighted. If you just think about writing the article, it is not copyrighted)
  • Copyright protections:
    • The (copyright) owner is the only one who can reproduce this original content
    • The owner is the only one who can revise the content
    • The owner is the only one who can distribute, display and/or publish the content
  • The protection lasts for the life of the owner, plus 70 years
  • If someone copies your work without your permission, it’s infringement (likewise, if you copy somebody else’s work, it is also infringement)
  • Content that can be copyrighted:
    • Music: songs, lyrics, scores. Recordings can also be copyrighted as distinct and separate from the song itself.
    • Written words: books, blog posts, poems
    • Performance works: plays, screenplays
    • Visual arts: photos, drawings, graphics, video clips, movies
  • How to get a copyright: Create original content and you already have a copyright. When you create something original, and then you record it, write it or otherwise get the idea out of your head and into the world, copyright is attached to the content immediately.
  • Why and how to add a copyright statement to your original work
    • If you add a copyright statement, it puts the world on notice that you are pointing out that your work is original, you own it, and you don’t want people to copy it.
    • If your work is really substantial, consider registering the copyright formally with the government copyright office (

 thief-1825713_640.jpg by 3dman_eu, via pixabay

Copyright infringement notes

  • Among the works that cannot be copyrighted: facts, and items produced by the US Government.
    • If you publish your family tree, the family data facts (birth, marriage, death, dates and places, etc.) are NOT copyrightable. Your notes, comments, and presentation are yours, however. More information
    • US Government documents themselves are NOT copyrightable either. However, the service that scanned and created images for you to access and download may hold a copyright on those digital files.
  • Sometimes, limited reproduction permission may have been granted to you as a user – an example from the current Ancestry Terms and Conditions says:

“Ancestry does not claim an exclusive right to images already in the public domain that it has converted into a digital format. However, the Websites contain images or documents that are protected by copyrights or that, even if in the public domain, are subject to restrictions on reuse. By agreeing to these Terms and Conditions, you agree to not reuse these images or documents except that you may reuse public domain images so long as you only use small portions of the images or documents for personal use. If you republish public domain images, you agree to credit the relevant Ancestry Website as the source of the digital image, unless additional specific restrictions apply.”

  • Before using any music, images, videos, etc. that you did not create yourself, find out if somebody owns the copyright.
  • Just because it’s online does not mean you can just use whatever you find.
  • Fair use:
    • Generally, the content used under fair use is expected to be only a small excerpt
    • The content should be used for specific purposes, such as critique, parody, reporting, teaching and research
    • More information on Fair Use
  • If you’ve published something online, and have used content that isn’t yours, and you receive a takedown notice, take the content down immediately. Otherwise, it’s possible the owner of the content could pursue charges against you.
  • Getting permission
    • In writing is best
    • If you ask, you might find that the content owner would be delighted if you use some of his or her material, as long as you provide proper credit and possibly a link back to the original source. But just crediting the source is not enough if the owner decides he/she does not want  you to use the material.

Content that comes with “built in” permission: Public Domain and Creative Commons

copyright-free-39515_640 by Clker-Free-Vector-Images, via pixabay


  • Public Domain means the work has no copyright protection
  • US Public Domain – check the laws for other countries


  • Creative Commons has several license types
    • Some allow you to use the content almost unrestrictedly, as long as you credit the creator
    • Some are more restrictive, limiting re-use to non-commercial purposes, or they allow it only if you re-distribute the containing work under the same “share alike” type of license.
    • “No Derivatives” means you have to use the entire material – you can’t extract portions and use them or embed them within your own work
  • How to attribute creative commons content
    • Keep the copyright notice/license for the work intact
    • Credit the author/creator
    • Include the title of the work
    • Include the URL to the work (if applicable)
    • Creative Commons best practices

How to find reusable images via Google Image Search

  1. Go to Google Images, and type in your search term (example: “daisy“)
  2. On the results page, click the Tools button
  3. Click the down arrow next to Usage rights
  4. There are several usage rights filters available:
    1. Not filtered by license
    2. Labeled for reuse with modification
    3. Labeled for reuse
    4. Labeled for noncommercial reuse with modification
    5. Labeled for nocommercial reuse
      (Windows 8 daisies! Public domain, free for commercial use, no attribution required)

Sources for photos you can use

Read and be aware of any terms of use. Confirm  status (public domain or otherwise) before you use the content




More resources (from Wikipedia)

Sources for music you can use

Check the terms of use for each digital file you want to use (terms may vary from artist to artist)


FMA (Free Music Archive) – includes some public domain


PDinfo If you can play an instrument, here is a site which is collecting songs that have entered public domain. You might be able to make a recording of yourself playing one of them.

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