Copyright Assistance

  • Copyright symbol

Understanding copyright guidelines can be a daunting task. Sometimes it can be difficult to determine what is copyright protected and what is in the public domain. The resources on this page and in the Related Links can help. If you have a specific copyright-related question that the information on this page does not resolve please contact the University of Minnesota Libraries Copyright Permissions Service at copyuse@umn.edu.

Copyright Basics

United States works published before 1923 are now in the public domain.
Works published between 1923–1963 are protected for a total of 95 years, providing the work’s copyright was renewed in the 28th year. If it wasn’t then it is now in the public domain.
Items published between 1964–1977 are copyright protected for 95 years.
Finally, works created on or after January 1, 1978 are copyright protected for the life of the author plus 70 years thereafter. Works for hire have a term of 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever expires first.
An important exception to these terms is in the area of Sound Recordings. [See below for additional information]

Determining what can be legally used under Fair Use guidelines for educational or scholarly activities can also be confusing. The following is a good rule of thumb.

  • Single chapter or 10 percent of published book
  • Article from a journal or newspaper
  • Short story, essay, or poem from a published work
  • Chart, graph, diagram, or cartoon from a published work
  • 10 percent of a musical composition, movie, photographs, or numerical databases from a published work

For more detailed copyright information, please use the resources below. They will help facilitate informed decision making in the classroom or in the research arena.

Need help making sense of this information? Ask a Librarian.