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For Website Designers, Creators, & Editors

Copyright is determined by the country in which the product was produced.  Since we are located with the United States, information provided here reflect U.S. laws.  The information presented here is intended for informational or educational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. If you have specific legal questions pertaining to K-State's copyright contact the Office of General Counsel (785-532-5730 or attys@k-state.edu), otherwise please consult personal counsel if you need legal advice.


This resource will be divided into three areas:  overview for all web sites, using content on your site, and additional content for closed systems.  We encourage everyone to review the overview area before creating content for any website.  For those who are unfamiliar with copyright in general, you can find more information about copyright and what is protected by copyright by visiting Faculty Copyright Basics and/or Student Copyright Basics


  • Copyright for Websites
  • Copyright Infringement
  • What content should I avoid using?

Using Content

  • Images
  • Public Domain
  • Open Access
  • Creative Commons
  • Individual License
  • Fair Use
  • Asking for permission

Closed Systems

  • Library Licensed Content
  • Instructor Exemptions

Ownership of Copyrights at K-State 


Copyright for Websites

Content that you create for the web will be placed in a "fixed, tangible medium" meaning that your work may have copyright protection.  You are encouraged to take an active role in managing your copyrights. As the original copyright holder you have the right to reproduce the work, prepare derivative works, distribute copies, and perform and display the work publicly.   You express a variety of these rights when you place your content on the web.  However, sometimes content that you are using for your website is not always your original content.  If that is the case you must determine if the work is protected and if you have proper permission or exemption for your use. 

Copyright Infringement

Pictures of puppies or kittens may be priceless in your mind, but if it is someone else's content maximum damages for copyright infringement can reach $150,000.  If you are creating internet content at K-State, these damages may be the university or yours to pay.  Let’s work together to avoid these damages.  According to the U.S. Copyright Office, "copyright infringement occurs when a copyrighted work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without a license or permission of the copyright owner." In other words, if you use someone's stuff without their approval, you could be committing copyright infringement. 

Overall, it is recommended to avoid copyrighted content that is not your own, unless there is a very specific and clear reason for using it (e.g. you decide you need a unique photo of an animal with heterochromia iridum, which is a type of eye color differentiation, and you have to explain the genetic anomaly in this specific animal, and there are no other photos available or other form of media/medium that would meet your needs) and your use is permitted under an exemption in the U.S. law. Licenses, written permissions, and exemptions are ways that website designers, creators, and editors can incorporate copyrighted material into their content pages without infringement.

What content should I avoid using?

As a website creator/editor at K-State, you should avoid using the following:

  • Stock photos
  • Time-licensed content
  • Any content for which you cannot determine the copyright status and/or copyright holder. 

When in doubt, throw it out!  Alternatively, when in doubt, link it out! If you link to the content, you are not copying or distributing the content yourself, so you are not responsible for any alleged copyright infringement claims. However, you should avoid linking out to websites with malicious, inappropriate, suspicious, or illegal activity.

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Using Content


If you are a Content Management System (CMS) editor for a K-State website, local K-State photography is preferred to imagery found online. K-State owns the copyright to many images, and it is a valuable resource for K-State web creators and editors. You can peruse the image gallery of K-State Photo Services or request photographer services.

You may also chose to take an image yourself, otherwise try one of the options below.

Public Domain

Content that is in the public domain does not have copyright protection, usually because the content's copyright term has expired or because the creator decided to dedicate the item to the public domain, and are are free to use. For more information about the public domain please visit the Public Domain page, which will give you an idea of what content might be in the public domain, how to determine what content is in the public domain, and resources/tools for helping you determine if content is in the public domain as well as resources for finding public domain content. Here are a couple of resources to get you started:

  • Digital Copyright Slider: will help you determine whether or not a work is in the public domain.
  • Copyright Genie: will also help you determine if a work is in the public domain by asking you a series of questions.

Attribution (credit) is not legally required for public domain content, but it is recommended for avoiding any plagiarism issues, especially in academic works. 

Open Access

During your searches you may also find content that is Open Access (OA), which means that it is free to reuse and often has a open license or Creative Commons license attached to the content. If you aren't sure, look for an open license or the OA icon attached to the work (e.g. a scholarly article):

Open Access Icon

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Creative Commons

Creative Commons Licensed (CCL) content is openly-licensed directly by the copyright holder to any user, meaning that it has fewer restrictions than other content found online. Copyright holders use CCL to communicate to online users that their content can be used under a few terms. The terms of these licenses are less restrictive than current U.S. copyright law. To learn more about the terms of the licenses, check out this infographic

While copyright law implies that all rights are reserved, CCL implies that some rights are reserved. For example, one of the licenses is called Creative Commons-Attribution (CC-BY) and requires only that you give attribution/credit to the original creator. The Creative Commons-Attribution-ShareAlike (CC-BY-SA) requires that you give attribution and share the work with the same license.  Here is an example of an image with a CC-BY-SA license reshared here with proper attribution: 

Sunrise with Paraná pines
Sunrise with Paraná pines at the Serra da Bocaina National Park, Brazil. 
Photo by Heris Luiz Cordeiro RochaCC-BY-SA

You can search for CCL content a number of ways:

With this content you run only a slight risk that this content was mislabeled as creative commons content. This happens more often with modified images as proper consideration of the original images copyright was not conducted or the creator did not have possession of a legal copy of the original image.  Google's reverse image search can be helpful in determining the origination of the image and the current copyright status. To conduct a reverse image search, go to Google Images, click on the camera icon, and you can either upload the image or copy/paste the URL of the image. 

In addition to using CCL content you can also apply a CCL to your site or works within your site (such as images). Like the traditional copyright symbol, ©, Creative Commons provides icons that you can embed into your website code to indicate that it's licensed under Creative Commons. To apply a CC license to your own work you can choose a license directly from creativecommons.org. If you cannot embed the icons, you can also copy/paste the license icon into your webpage or simply link to the license like in the example of the photo (above) of Bocaina National Park.

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Individual License

There are many images and other types of materials online that are individually-licensed, such as Shutterstock images. Many of these materials are time-licensed, meaning that the license may have an expiration date, even if you pay for it. If you choose to buy licensed materials, be careful of expiration dates; if you post a time-licensed image online after the license expires, you would be committing copyright infringement.

We strongly recommend avoiding individual licensed materials altogether. If you come across an image and are not sure whether it is licensed, it's recommended that you not use it. If it is a licensed image, and you do not have a license to use it, do not use it; this includes images and content that have watermarks applied to them. 

Fair Use

Sometimes, when you use others' copyrighted content, your use can be more in favor of fair use (Section 107 of U.S. copyright law), which is the most widely used exception within U.S. copyright law. You must ensure, however, that you have a legal copy of the copyrighted work. In a digital environment, this can be trickier to determine. If you obtained an image from a website, for example, you need to check the terms of use of the website; every so often, websites' terms of use will have a restrictive clause that does not allow for you to obtain or download the material on their website, even for personal use. What you should search for is a clause or statement that allows for you to download or copy material from the website or source for "your own use" or "your personal use." When you read this, you can now be reassured that you have a legal copy of the copyrighted material.

To learn more about fair use and terms of use as they apply to fair use, check out MIT's Fair Use Quiz.

In addition to ensuring that you have a legal copy of the copyrighted work, you should also understand that re-sharing content within a social media platform is not the same as re-sharing content from a social media platform on another website or platform. Social media platforms, such as Twitter, have their users agree to a license when they create their profiles; these license agreements state that you agree that others can re-share your work within the platform and that you are allowed to do the same. However, if you decide to share a photo outside of Twitter, for instance, you would have to ensure that you are complying with an exception in the law, such as fair use, because your use is no longer covered by the terms of use.

You need to have a solid argument to make a case for your use of the copyrighted work when making content freely and publicly available online to everyone. Want to use content on your website under fair use?  Make a fair use evaluation using the Fair Use Evaluator tool. This tool will walk you through the steps and produce a date- and time-stamped PDF for your records. Check out the Fair Use page for more information about fair use and the four factors of fair use

Asking for Permission

If you absolutely need to use a copyrighted work, and your use is not covered under a license or an exemption, then you should obtain written permission from the copyright holder to use the work. With permission, you may be able to easily use the entire work or to use it in ways not allowed by a license or exemption. For more information on where and how to obtain permission please visit Obtaining Permission.

Other Concerns

In addition to copyright concerns, you will also need to consider whether your use violates any privacy laws or trademark laws.

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Closed System

Library Licensed Content

Generally, if you are logged into K-State (with your eID and password), you are also granted access to K-State Libraries materials that you find through search engines, such as Google. Library-licensed materials also include those accessed on K-State Libraries databases and SearchIt!. If you're not sure if the content is library licensed look for "Kansas State University Libraries" or these key images that may appear next to scholarly articles or other types of materials: 

"Get it at KSU" link example 
on Google Scholar

"Get it" logo for 
K-State Libraries
Get it at KSU (Google Scholar)

Get it through K-State Libraries

Library-licensed materials all have different restrictions and terms of use, depending on the database and journal where you access it. You should never make library-licensed materials available publicly online. These materials have been licensed so that only authorized users (i.e. K-State faculty, staff, and students) have access to them. You may be permitted to use library-licensed materials for personal or educational purposes, but you should always check the terms of the license or, if in doubt, Ask a Librarian.

In addition, if you are using library-licensed materials for an online course, such as on Canvas, you should consider providing permalinks to the materials rather than including them in Canvas for students to download directly; this is beneficial for two reasons:

  1. Usage statistics for that resource will increase, which will let librarians in collection development know that the resource is being used. (When resources have low usage statistics, they have a greater chance of having their subscription cancelled).
  2. Some of the licenses may not allow for electronic reuse in learning management systems like Canvas; for this reason, it's recommended that you use permalinks for library-licensed materials, unless you are certain that your use does not violate the license. (For example ArtStor allows for reuse of its images in online educational settings.)

Need help with permalinks? Check out the Permalinks for Electronic and Physical Resources or use LinkIt to create an accessible link. For information about permalinks, check out Linking to Online Resources: Using Permalinks.

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Instructor Exemptions

These exemptions are very specific to what is allowed. Section 110(1) covers instruction in face-to-face teaching while Section 110(2) covers distance education, or online instruction. TEACH Act is restrictive, and generally, you are only permitted to use copyrighted material as part of a course that is "a regular part of the systematic mediated instructional activities" and the transmission of such materials is solely for students enrolled in the course (e.g. students in a course who login to Canvas to access the materials for the course). For more information please visit Using Material for Your Course.

Ownership of Copyrights at K-State

The creator usually is the initial copyright holder. If two or more people jointly create a work, they are joint holders of the copyright, with equal rights. When authors publish, sometimes they sign their copyright over to the publishers.

If a work is created as a part of a person's employment, that work is a "work for hire" and the copyright belongs to the employer, unless the employer explicitly grants rights to the employee in a signed agreement. If the creator is hired as a contractor, then the creator (rather than the company/employer) may be the copyright holder. Please visit Circular 9: Works Made for Hire from the U.S. Copyright Office for more information on "work for hire."

If you are an employee at K-State, you may or may not hold the copyright to the content you create in the course of your employment. Generally, full-time staff members at K-State do not hold the copyright to the materials they create in the course of their work duties, especially if the content is specifically related to K-State. In this case, copyright is held by Kansas State University and the work is considered a "work made for hire" under U.S. copyright law and by K-State's Intellectual Property Policy. Please refer to Section I: Copyrights of the policy for more information.

You should consider the questions in the chart below to determine whether you or K-State hold the copyright to the work you create while working at K-State.

Why/how did you create the work?Who holds the copyright?Exceptions

As part of the normal course of your employment at K-State

(e.g. an employee becomes a web content editor/creator for K-State and creates content for a departmental website)


The copyright may be held by you if:

  • there is a specific agreement in writing stating the copyright transfer

As a K-State employee using substantial institutional resources when creating the work

(e.g. a Graduate Teaching Assistant uses software licensed to K-State to create teaching materials)


"Substantial use" is defined as receiving staff, salary, or material support beyond that normally provided to the creators at K-State.

K-State owns the copyright to the specific materials but not to the intellectual content of the courseware.

In the course of your employment for scholarly or artistic means 

(e.g. a Graduate Research Assistant taking photos for a research project under the direction of a faculty member)

Scholarly and artistic works can include "textbooks, scholarly monographs, trade publications, maps, charts, articles in popular magazines and newspapers, novels, nonfiction works, supporting materials, artistic works, syllabi, lecture notes, and like works" (University Handbook, Appendix R: Intellectual Property Policy and Institutional Procedures, Section I.A.).


The copyright may not be held by you if:

  • you used substantial institutional resources (see above) or 
  • there is a specific agreement in writing stating the copyright transfer

As a student as part of a course at K-State 

(e.g. your academic works)

YouThe copyright will always be held by you, but K-State holds a nonexclusive, royalty-free license to mark on, modify, and retain your academic works.