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The Graduate Health & Life Sciences Research Library at Georgetown University Medical Center

Copyright 101

Copyright User Basics

Just because you have found a work on the internet does not mean that it is free to use. This is true around the world. Copyright exists, there are serious consequences for those who infringe, and it could happen to you! Although there are no blanket "international copyright laws" that protect a work, each country has its own law or laws to protect the copyright status of a work. Many countries have made different resources available so that users can increase their awareness of copyright laws. As participants of this global discussion, individuals need to familiarize themselves with their country’s laws in order for them to increase their awareness of growing copyright concerns.

U.S. Copyright Specifics for Users

There are a variety of specifics regarding the copyright duration of a work. This section will go over some of the more common rules to follow regarding copyright duration. In order to get more information and dig deeper, please go to the Copyright Law 17 U.S. Code § 302.  

For works published after 1978, the duration of copyright is life plus 70 years. This means that protection begins on the date of the author's death and goes through the full calendar year of that 70th year. 

For "Joint Works" or works that have more than one author, the duration of copyright is life plus 70 and begins once the last author has died and goes through the full calendar of that final year.  

"In the case of a work made for hire, the copyright endures for a term of 95 years from the year of its first publication, or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first" (Copyright Law 17 U.S. Code § 302)

Requesting Permission

In order to use a work, whether it is in print or online, you have to determine whether that use requires permission from the copyright owner. Sometimes, your use will fall under Fair Use. Go to Fair Use to learn more. Below is an example of a basic workflow you can use to determine whether permission is required and how to request permission. In order to find more information, please visit How to Obtain Permission

  1. "First, you need to ensure the status of the work.
    1. If the work is in the public domain, you don't need to request permission. 
    2. Determine if the work has a copyright notice. The notice will assist in providing information 
    3. Potentially the author is no longer the copyright owner, only the current copyright owner can provide you permission 
    4. Also, determine if the work is a part of a larger body of work 
  2. Next, contact the copyright owner
    1. You will need to provide the owner with a variety of information to help the owner make a determination such as author, title of the work, copyright date, and use to made of the work
    2. Contact the author in advance to give him or her enough time to respond"

(How to Obtain Permission. Copyright Circular 10)


The purpose of this guide is to provide resources and information for resolving copyright questions.  This research guide does not supply legal advice nor is it intended to replace the advice of legal counsel.