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Best Practices

Copyright, specifically Title 17 of the United States Code, is a law that protects the rights of the author to control the use of their original work.


Many of the elements that go into web design may be protected by copyright law. This includes images, icons, videos, animations, quotes, music, etc. Using these elements without abiding by copyright law could result in being heavily fined


How do you know something is protected under copyright?1

  • Look for a copyright notice. These are often found along the bottom of a webpage, inside the title page of a book, along the bottom of an image, etc.
  • Find the date.  Works with a copyright date before 1923, works published more than 95 years ago, unpublished works with a known author who died more than 70 years ago or are 120 years from the creation date have entered the public domain. Be careful of trademarks and patents as those are protected under different laws.
  • Search the copyright database

How can you use a copyrighted work?

  • University of Utah owned work. If the copyrighted work, lets say an image, is owned by the University of Utah and so is the website you are working on, you can use that image on the website because they are owned by the same entity.
  • Creative Commons. This type of copyright allows for the use of the work by the public with attribution. You will often see this type of license on stock photography websites. Visit the creative commons website for more information.
  • Public Domain. When something is licensed under the public domain it means it is free to use without any attribution or credit given to the original author.
  • Ask permission or obtain a license. You can use a copyrighted work if you have the permission of the author or you have purchased a license. For example, when you purchase an image from a stock website you are purchasing a license to use that image. Some stock photography websites limit how many times you can use that image. Make sure you select the use that is right for you.
  • Cite your sources. If you quote something or use an idea from a copyrighted source make sure you are citing it correctly. This video from the U of G Library gives a great overview on when to cite a source.2
  • Fair Use. Something is considered a fair use of a copyrighted work when it is used in a 'transformative way'. There are many things that fall into this category. Please refer to the for further information. 
  • When in doubt refer to or simply don't use it.


Last Updated: 3/19/21