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Copyright Basics

An introduction to the principles of copyright law.


The following are recommended resources for learning more about different aspects of copyright, organized by topic. 

Copyright Resources

U.S. Copyright Office

The Copyright Office website allows you to register copyrights, search copyright records, and learn more about copyright.


Copyright and Fair Use (Stanford University Libraries)

This website offers an overview of most aspects of copyright law, including fair use, permissions, and the public domain. 


Copyright Advisory Services (Columbia University Libraries)

This website offers a useful overview of copyright, fair use, and permissions.


Copyright Crash Course (University of Texas Libraries)

This guide allows anyone interested in understanding and managing their copyrights to explore different areas of copyright law.


Music Copyright Tutorials (College of William and Mary)

This series of videos provides an overview of copyright as it relates to music. 


Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States (Cornell University Library)

This comprehensive chart helps determine whether a work has entered the public domain in the U.S.


Public Domain Slider (Copyright Advisory Network)

This tool helps determine whether a work is still protected by copyright.


The Copyright Claims Board: Small Claims Guide

This Northwestern guide offers an overview of the newly created Copyright Claims Board and related small claims copyright infringement notices.


The Online Books Page: Copyright Registration and Renewal Records (University of Pennsylvania)

This website helps determine whether the copyright for a work has been renewed. See How Can I Tell Whether a Copyright Was Renewed? for more information on how to investigate renewals.  

Institute for Intellectual Property & Social Justice

This organization looks at intellectual property through a social justice lens, offering online resources and an annual conference. 

Fair Use Resources

Fair Use Checklist (Columbia University Libraries)

This PDF tool helps make fair use assessments by working through each of the four factors. 


Summaries of Fair Use Cases (Stanford University Libraries)

This website provides summaries of fair use cases, which are useful for understanding how fair use decisions are made. 


Codes of Best Practices in Fair Use (Center for Media & Social Impact)

This series of Codes of Best Practices help illuminate the application of fair use in different areas like documentary filmmaking, academic and research libraries, visual arts, online video, and journalism.
Fair Use Index (U.S. Copyright Office)
The index tracks fair use decisions made by U.S. courts.

Permissions and Public Licenses Resources

Introduction to the Permissions Process (Stanford University Libraries)

This guide offers a detailed overview of what permission is and how to seek it. 


Asking for Permission (Columbia University Libraries)

This page offers an overview of how to ask for permission, along with several model permissions letters. 


Permissions FAQ (Association of University Presses)

This guide offers permissions guidelines as they typically apply to university press publishing, including several model permissions letters. 


Creative Commons

Creative Commons offers a suite of public licenses and information about how to use them. 

Courses and Webinars

CopyrightX (Harvard Law School)

CopyrightX is an online course offered annually. The course lectures and readings cover a variety of copyright topics and are available at the website, as is information on applications for the course itself.


Copyright for Librarians and Educators (Coursera)

This course provides a basic introduction to U.S. copyright law over four weeks’ worth of sessions.


CopyTalk (ALA OITP Copyright Education Subcommittee)

CopyTalk is a series of webinars on specific copyright topics. Most are archived on their website.

Northwestern Copyright Policies

Copyright Policy (Innovation and New Ventures Office/INVO)

Covered by this policy: Members of the University's academic community who create works at the University resulting from their research, teaching, artistic creativity or writing. 


Rights, Permissions, and Reproduction Policies (Northwestern University Libraries)

This policy addresses copyright in materials held by the Northwestern University Libraries. 

For More Information

Northwestern University Libraries offer information about copyright law to help you make decisions about how to share and use copyrighted material in your research, learning, and teaching activities, and to help you understand the rights you hold in your own copyrighted work. 
Email the copyright librarian to ask any questions that aren't addressed here, to set up a research consultation, or to set up a presentation or workshop on copyright for your class or group. 
Other university resources: