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For Students

Copyright Basics

Five Facts About U.S. Copyright Law 

The video (below) will give you a basic understanding of U.S. Copyright Law before you dig into more details on this page. 

Copyright Protection

Copyright Protection




What's protected by copyright? 

What is not protected by copyright?

Copyright Does Not Protect





Copyright protects works that are:

  • Literary
  • Musical
  • Artistic
  • Dramatic
  • Architectural 

Copyright does not protect:

  • Facts
  • Ideas
  • Systems
  • Methods of operation
  • Names, titles, phrases

However, copyright may protect the way these facts, ideas, and systems are expressed, such as: 

  • A scholarly article that expresses certain concepts and ideas
  • An encyclopedia that expresses facts
  • A book that expresses a method of operation 
  • A magazine that expresses a new discovery

Though copyright does not protect names, titles, and phrases, trademark law may protect them. 

Current copyright protection term lengths (works created on or after 1978):

  • Life of the author plus 70 years
    • If joint authorship, the term applies to the last surviving author.
  • However, if the work is anonymous, pseudonymous, or a work made for hire, the copyright endures for either 95 years from first publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is longer.

More information:

Notice & Registration

Copyright is Automatic




Copyright Notice

What to know: 

  • It's optional, not required.
  • It's beneficial, because:
    • It informs the public of your copyright.
    • It lets the public know who to contact for permissions.
  • Example: © Jane Doe 2016
  • More information about copyright notice

Copyright Registration

What to know:

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Reusing Content 

Guidelines for Analyzing Any Copyright Problem

Can I Use It? Detailed Guide - PDF


Step-by-step, follow the guidelines below or use the infographic (left) when reusing content.

  1. Is the work protected by copyright?
  2. Is there a license that covers my use?
  3. Is there an exception in the law that allows for my reuse?
  4. Do I need permission?

Plagiarism and Copyright Infringement

Plagiarism versus Copyright Infringement

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Plagiarism is an ethical issue and a violation of university policy. 

  • University Handbook, Appendix F: Academic conduct, academic honesty, and honor system constitution

    • This policy (specifically Section II-A) outlines definitions of plagiarism and how to avoid it.

    • Committing plagiarism can lead to failure of a course or expulsion from the university (in extreme cases). 
  • Student Tips
    • The Honor and Integrity System provides excellent tips, strategies, and resources for avoiding plagiarism.
    • The most common type of plagiarism at K-State is unauthorized collaboration, which means that two or more students complete an assignment together when they were supposed to complete the work on their own. Talk to your professor if you are unsure about collaborations on an assignment.
  • Student Code of Conduct
    • "Section A-21 states that "any illegal or unauthorized taking, selling, or distribution of class notes" to be considered misconduct "in which disciplinary sanctions will be imposed."
  • Examples of Plagiarism from TurnItIn.com
    • This guide gives examples of the 10 most common types of plagiarism.
  • Plagiarism.org Student Materials
    • Excellent resource for understanding the basics of avoiding plagiarism and using proper citations and references. 
  • TurnItIn.com - Preventing Plagiarism
    • This resource helps students to understand how plagiarism happens and why it is an ethical issue. 
  • Self-plagiarism
    • Yes, you can plagiarize yourself! 
    • Be sure to cite yourself when referencing another source you wrote/created. 

Copyright Infringement

Copyright Infringement is a legal concept in which an individual either does not seek permission to use a work or the use does not fall under an exception in U.S. Copyright Law (such as Fair Use). 

Public domain works (e.g. most works published before 1923), do not need citations/attribution; under U.S. Copyright Law, these works are free to use however you want. However, not citing is a form of plagiarism even though you may not be committing copyright infringement. 

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Copyright Information for Graduate Students

As a graduate student, you will likely be expected to write an Electronic Thesis/Dissertation/Report (ETDR). While you may not hold copyright to all the images and figures you cite in your ETDR, you hold the copyright to your ETDR. This means you have the right to reproduce, prepare derivative works, distribute copies, and perform the work

In addition, you might be reusing copyrighted content, such as images and figures, in your ETDR. While proper citation is important, you must also comply with U.S. Copyright Law when reusing content in your ETDR. Please refer to Reusing Content for more information. Also, take a look at the "Copyrightability of Tables, Charts, and Graphs" from the University of Michigan. 

If you write an ETDR, you will be expected to submit your it to the K-State Research Exchange (K-REx) when completed. Doctoral students will also be expected to deposit their dissertations in ProQuest. When you submit your ETDR, you are giving K-REx and ProQuest (if applicable) the right to host and distribute your ETDRs.

Take a few moments to read through "Copyright and Your Dissertation or Thesis: Ownership, Fair Use, and Your Rights and Responsibilities," which will give you a better understanding of the common scenarios involving copyright encountered by graduate students when conducting research. 

Publishing Sections or Chapters of your Electronic Thesis/Dissertation/Report in Academic Journals

Publishing before Submission to K-REx

As a graduate or doctoral student, you may decide to use a chapter or section from your ETDR and publish it as a scholarly article in an online academic journal before you upload your final ETDR to K-REx. When you submit an article for publication in an academic journal, the publisher may ask you to sign over copyright during the submission process as soon as the article is accepted for publication. In this circumstance, you would no longer hold copyright of the content in that article, which means that a portion of your ETDR's copyright is now held by the publisher. You no longer have the right to reproduce and distribute copies of the article or ETDR chapter without permission from the copyright holder (the publisher), which includes depositing your ETDR into K-REx. The majority of publishers, however, are usually flexible and will allow you to deposit your ETDR into an institutional repository, such as K-REx. If you have published a section of your ETDR with an academic journal and are no longer the copyright holder, you will need to request permission from the publisher before you submit your ETDR to K-REx. 

Alternatively, if you have not yet submitted a chapter or section of your ETDR as an article to an academic journal but want to do so, you may want to retain some of your rights. In order to do this, you can attach a contract addendum before you sign your contract or choose an open access journal. Keep in mind that many publishers now use "click-through" agreements that ask you to sign over copyright during the submission process. If you wish to retain your rights:

  • Back out of the submission form and email the editor.
  • Complete a contract addendum before you email the editor or simply email the editor and ask if it is possible to retain some or all of your rights.
  • Use the Scholar's Copyright Addendum Engine from Science Commons gives you four options for retaining some or all of your rights, depending on your preference. It also produces a PDF that you can attach to the publisher's contract.
  • State on the original contract that the contract is "subject to the attached addendum," or the signed contract could be accepted without the addendum. If you need assistance understanding or using contract addenda, please contact CADS at cads@k-state.edu

If the publisher requests that you not host your ETDR on K-REx due to copyright restrictions, you can request an embargo period. You are expected to discuss embargoes with your academic advisor for approval before submitting to K-REx. 

Publishing after Submission to K-REx

If you have already submitted your ETDR to K-REx, and you decide to publish an article using content or sections from your ETDR, you will need to notify the publisher or journal that the content of the article is already hosted online on K-REx. The majority of publishers will not have a problem with this, but you do need to notify them of this, especially if they ask you to sign over copyright, because the publisher now has the exclusive right to reproduce and distribute the article and its content.