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Honors Projects: Copyright and Licensing

This guide provides information on doing research for a Macalester honors project, author rights, copyright, and the publication process.

Your Copyright

You own the copyright of your Honors project. This means that no one can claim all or portions of your work for their own. If you publish your project in Digital Common and someone violates your copyright, the Macalester College Library is the publisher of record and will pursue copyright violations on your behalf. Please contact the library if you discover a violation of your copyright.

Keep in mind fair use applies to your work as well, and that others may well use and cite your work. Note that you can use Google Scholar to track citations to your work.

In Digital Commons you have the option of applying a Creative Commons license to your project. Why might you want to do this? The various Creative Common licenses allow you to state upfront how you would like others to use your work. All use must include attribution. But if someone wanted to use a photograph from your project, or images, or large sections of text, they would need to contact you for permission. With a Creative Commons license, you could say such use is okay, with attribution, and you need not be contacted beforehand. For questions about the advantages and disadvantages of Creative Commons license, please speak with your librarian.

Copyright Issues We've Seen with Honors Projects

Things to Consider:

  • When using images, search for Creative Commons licensed images. Google Search allows you to filter the results by this.
  • If you integrate your own photographs (or other creative work) into your project, make sure you give yourself proper attribution. For example, under the photograph write: Photo taken by author.
  • In general, tables, charts, and graphs, unless they have a particular creative aspect to them, are okay to use. However, you must cite them properly. By the same token, if you create a table, chart, or graph, you may wish to make it clear you created it, in text or in the labeling of the figure. 
  • If you use a quotation to start your paper, or as a chapter introduction, be sure to fully cite that quotation. 
  • When you are using content, particularly from the web, check to see if the site indicates the usage policy. For example, Twitter lists its usage policy. Often, you will be able to use the content, with proper citation, but check.
  • In general, works by the U.S. Government are in the public domain and are fair to use with proper citation. However, occasionally others will create content for the government, and that work might be copyrighted. This should be indicated.
  • If you must use copyrighted material, library staff can help you with the process of asking for permission. If permission is not granted, we may still publish your Honors project, but redact parts, or limit to on-campus use only.

Copyrights of Others

You must respect the copyright of others when using their works in your project. You already likely know how to properly cite the works of others that you use. However, copyright comes into play in certain circumstances and must be respected. Copyright only applies for Honors projects that are published. If your project is not published, or restricted in use, copyright issues don't apply.

For help, try:  Can I Use that? A map and outline from Copyright Services at the University of Minnesota Libraries.

Fair use guidelines: The following criteria for fair use are used in conjunction with one another, and weighed against each other. No one factor determines by itself if you have violated copyright or not.

  • Purpose and character of the use. This asks if your work is of a commercial nature or not. Honors projects are not commercial works. However, even though your work is not commercial in nature, you still may not use the copyrighted works of others. There is some wriggle room in this if your use is transformative in nature. For example, if you create a parody of another's work, paint over a photograph which significantly alters it, or other creative changes. This also applies to critiques of creative works. You are allowed to use more of the original work in a critique. However, this is a complex area of copyright law and you should get advice on it.
  • Nature of the copyrighted work. If the work is creative in nature, such as a poem, novel, song, etc., its content is more protected under copyright. For example, you cannot publish an entire poem in your Honors project without permission. However, if your critiquing that poem, there are some provisions for that. If the work is more factual in nature, such as a statistical chart or graph, fair use is more likely to apply, if you publish that chart (as long as it is properly cited). 
  • Amount and substantiality of the portion used. This means you should avoid using substantial portions of another's work, or the most critical component(s). This is a tricky one. In general, it is not permissible to publish someone else's entire work, but you can work with portions. However, if that portion is considered the key component of the work, that might be a violation of copyright. For example, the chorus of a song might fall into this category. (Again, critique is a wrinkle in this, ask for help if this is part of your work.)
  • Effect of the use upon the potential market or value of the copyrighted work. Generally, this aspect will not affect your work, but you should be aware of it. If you are using something that is of commercial value, your use cannot affect the current or future sales of that work.