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This guide provides a basic overview of copyright law, fair use, copyright for instructors, and other copyright related resources.

No Permission Needed

This section covers works that can be used without requesting permission or relying on a fair use analysis. 

These works include:

  • Works in the public domain
  • Creative Commons licensed content
  • Open Education and Open Access Resources 

Works in the Public Domain?

Not all creative works are protected by copyright. There are large bodies of works that fall within the public domain. The public domain is defined as the state of belonging to the public as a whole, and therefore, it is not subject to copyright law. Works in the public domain have no restrictions, so anyone can freely use them without requesting permission.  In general, works fall within the public domain if the copyright has expired, been forfeited, expressly waived, is inapplicable, or the work was published by the U.S. federal government. 

For help determining when works are likely to enter the public domain please see the Cornell Copyright Term & Public Domain chart.

Public Domain Resources

Creative Commons


Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that distributes free, standardized licenses that enables authors to give others permission to share and use their creative work. All Creative Commons licenses require some form of attribution, which requires users to give authors credit for their original work. 

CC Licenses


There are six Creative Commons licenses available for use from least to most restrictive: 


 Attribution license or "CC BY" allows others to use the work for any purpose, even commercially, as longs as they provide attribution to the author.

        CC BY-SA                 

Attribution-ShareAlike license or "CC-BY-SA" allows others to use the work for any purpose including commercial use and adaptations as long as attribution is provided and any adaptations shared are distributed under the same or a compatible license. 


 Attribution-NonCommercial license or "CC-BY-NC" allows others to only use the work for non-commercial purposes. Attribution to the author is required. 

CC BY-NC-SA                       

 Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike or "CC-BY-NC-SA" allows others to only use the work for non-commercial purposes, as long as attribution is provided to the author and any adaptations are shared under the same or compatible license.  


Attribution-NoDerivatives license or "CC-BY-ND" allows others to reuse the unadapted work for any purposes, including commercially. Any adaptations created from this work cannot be shared with others. 

CC BY-NC-ND   Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license or "CC-BY-NC-ND" is the most restrictive license. It allows others to only use the unadapted work for non-commercial purposes with proper attribution to the author. Any adaptations created from this work cannot be shared with others. 


Creative Commons Resources

Open Resources

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Informational Purposes Only

The materials and information on this guide are intended for informational purposes only. CSU Libraries make every effort to assure the accuracy of this information but do not offer it as counsel or legal advice. Please consult the University's Office of the General Counsel or your own attorney for advice concerning your specific situation.


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