Copyright: Fair Use, Public Domain, and More


Determining copyright status can be a difficult process. The resources on this page are intended as general guides. You can contact a librarian with any general questions you have about copyright, and we strongly recommend that you contact James T. Koebel, Associate General Counsel at UNCW (, with more specific questions or concerns.

Not all of the resources on this page are truly public domain resources. Many are offered under voluntary licenses or agreements, which change or limit the rights held by the copyright owner, or they are identified as royalty-free materials.

Canvas Module

click to watch video

Randall Library has created a Canvas module* entitled "Using Images from the Web." This module will introduce your students to the legal and ethical principles surrounding the use of online media.

To install the module into your Canvas course, open the Canvas Commons and search for either the module title ("Using Images from the Web") or just "Randall Library."  You can preview the module before importing and will be able to edit / customize it afterwards. 

*Note: this content is already included in the ENG 101 library modules 


Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution, states: "The Congress shall have power...To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries..."

U.S. copyright law gives all creators near perfect control over their creation, with a set of rights that only they may exercise. These include the right to make copies, to prepare derivative works, to publicly distribute, display and perform the work, and (in the case of digital sound recordings) to perform the works over a digital network. (source)

For an overview of copyright and issues related to education and fair use, we recommend reviewing:

There are four ways that you can use copyrighted material:

  1. Public Domain.
  2. Fair Use. 
  3. Permission.
    • You can contact the copyright holder for permission. Note that the creator is not always the same person as the copyright holder.
    • Sometimes the holder will proactively label their work with permission to reuse with or without restrictions (for example:creative common licenses). 
  4. TEACH Act.


Selected Sites for Allowed-to-Use Resources

Please note that not all materials listed on the sites below are in the public domain or have the permission of the creator for you to use. It is the responsibility of you, the individual using the material, to determine copyright status.

This is not a comprehensive list!  There are many more places to find content on the web.


Other Ideas

  • Government agencies
  • Presidential libraries, other special libraries, or archives
  • Library of Congress Collections, especially American Memory and the Print & Photo Reading Room
  • Digital libraries -- see Wikipedia's List of Digital Library Projects
  • New York Public Libraries: Public Domain Collections
  • Books, newspapers, and magazines published earlier than 1923, or between the years 1923-1963 if copyright was not renewed. Use the "advanced keyword search" in Randall Library's Catalog to find materials published before a certain date.


Other Ideas

  • Sheet music collections
  • Traditional songs or folk music created, or in existence before, 1923


  • The Internet Archive - Many of the digitized films in the Prelinger Archive, accessible through the Internet Archive, are available for nearly unrestricted non-profit use.
  • YouTube Creative Commons videos - Start by running a search. Then, open the "filters" and refine results to "Creative Commons." 

Other Ideas

  • Special libraries
  • The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration has a list of finding aids for locating materials in Presidential libraries and other special collections


Other Ideas

  • Books, newspapers, and magazines published earlier than 1923, or between the years 1923-1963 if copyright was not renewed (use the "advanced search" in Randall Library's Catalog to find materials published before a certain date)
  • Again, special libraries and archives will have many materials
  • While not public domain materials, there are several publishers and web sites featuring authors whose works are available for free download. See the Internet Archive's Text Archive for more information.

Scholarly Research Services

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For more information, visit our Scholarly Research Services webpage.


Contact Your Librarian

Allison Kittinger

Scholarly Communications Librarian
Phone Number: 

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