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Copyright and Using Video

Provides information on when and how copyright affects use of videos in classrooms.

Copyright Questions?

The University of Michigan Library Copyright Office provides help with copyright questions for University of Michigan faculty, staff and students. Please email us with questions or visit our website for more information.

Legal Advice

The information presented here is intended for informational purposes and should not be construed as legal advice. If you have specific legal questions pertaining to the University of Michigan, please contact the Office of the General Counsel.

If you require legal advice in your personal capacity, the lawyer referral services operated by the Washtenaw County Bar Association and the State Bar of Michigan may be helpful to you.

When Permission is Not Required

You do not need permission if you are using something that is not copyrightable or is in the public domain, or if you are using it in a way that does not implicate one of the rights of copyright holders or is permitted by a user’s right. You also don't need further permission if your use falls within an existing license.

Information on these topics that is specific to video can be found below. For more information on all of these topics, please see our Copyright Basics guide. 

Public Domain Works

Works that are not subject to copyright are in the public domain. They may be used without permission. In the United States, a copyrightable work is in the public domain if:

  • It was published before March 1, 1989 and did not comply with one or more of the required formalities. (Note: if the work was first published outside of the United States, copyright restoration may apply. For more information, see Copyright Restoration Under the URAA (PDF).)
  • The term of its copyright protection has ended.
  • Its copyright holder placed it in the public domain using the Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication.

Every country has its own rules about when a copyrightable work enters the public domain.

Public-Licensed Works

A public license permits certain uses of copyrighted materials by the public at large. If a work you wish to use has been released under a public license, you do not have to seek additional permission from the rightsholder in order to do the things authorized by the license. However, you do still need to follow the license terms. For example, the license may require attribution to the original author or it may forbid commercial uses.

Creative Commons licenses are public licenses. Other public licenses include the licenses on the lists of free software licenses maintained by the Free Software Foundation and the licenses approved by the Open Source Initiative.

Sources of Public-Licensed and Public Domain Audiovisual Works

Rights of Copyright Holders

Copyright law gives copyright holders specific rights. If your use of a work does not implicate any of those rights, it does not require permission.

For example, watching a DVD on a television set with your family or social acquaintances would not implicate any of the rights of the copyright holder. It would not involve reproduction, modification, distribution, or public performance or display of the work. It would qualify as a performance, but not as a public one.

Rights of Users

When you use a work under one of the user's rights in the Copyright Act, your use does not require permission. User's rights that may apply when you are using video include:

Resources on Fair Use and Video