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A copyright resource page for faculty, staff, students, and the general community at the University of South Dakota.

DISCLAIMER: Information found in this guide is not intended to be legal advice.  This is a guide to copyright laws and issues, in the United States, generated by librarians at the University Libraries.  

Copyright and You

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As a student, does Copyright Law apply to me?

As a student, you are not exempt from Copyright Law.  The Board of Regents's copyright policies focus mainly on student interactions with technology, but copyright law applies to all your scholarly and creative activities, including the papers you write.

If the scholarly/creative work you create for a class violates copyright law, you can be sued by the copyright owner.  Please refer to Copyright Law's Sections 107 and 108 for additional information.  If you feel your use of copyrighted materials falls under Fair Use, please refer to and follow the additional links in that section.

In addition, as stated in BOR policy 3.4.1.B, "When Students enroll at an Institution, they voluntarily accept obligations of performance and behavior that are consistent with the Institution’s lawful mission, processes, and functions."  One of those obligations is adhering to copyright law.


What items are eligible for copyright protection?

Though copyright law as it applies to music and video makes the most headlines, copyright protection applies to all scholarly and creative works that are 'original' and 'fixed' in some way.  Without knowing it, we run into copyrighted things every day.

Every day, you interact with items eligible for copyright protection.  You are interacting with copyright protected works when you:

  • listen to or download music
  • watch a movie
  • share photos
  • post something to a Facebook wall
  • make a copy

You, yourself, may be creating materials eligible for copyright protection, if you:

  • write a poem
  • write a software program
  • write music
  • create a DVD of a musical performance

What you create for your classes may be subject to copyright law.

In short, "if you can see it, read it, watch it, or hear it--with or without the use of a computer, projector, or other machine--the work is likely eligible for copyright protection." 

Based on copyright information for dissertation authors from ProQuest and Kenneth D. Crews, available

Student Employees

red lineIf a student is working on faculty-directed research, s/he is considered a university employee (BOR, even if not being paid.  All rules that apply to faculty doing research apply to students doing research, including the requirement of adhering to copyright law. 

The Board of Regents generally waives title to copyrights for scholarly and creative artistic works written by its employees (BOR 4.34.4.B.1).  However, there are exceptions.  In addition, the Board reserves the right to use these scholarly/creative artistic works for educational purposes.

Theses and Dissertations

red lineThe copyright for theses and dissertations is generally retained by the author, though the student is required to deposit two copies with the University Libraries to further scholarly/creative artistic use.

Submitting your thesis/dissertation to Proquest (Login required) does not change your copyright protection.  Proquest does not require transfer of any copyright rights.  You may choose to make your thesis/dissertation open access, but that is between you and Proquest.  For more details, see Copyright and your dissertation or thesis : Ownership, fair uses, and your rights and responsibilities.

Note that copyright laws are country-specific.  If you are using materials created and/or published outside the United States, you should consult the copyright laws in those countries. 

Copyright versus Plagiarism

red lineThough these concepts overlap, they are not the same.

Plagiarism deals with the proper attribution of someone else's ideas, when using them in your own creative work.  The reader must be able to distinguish your views from that of the person's cited.

Copyright is a legal concept, where the law permits the creator of a scholarly/creative work to control how that work is used for a finite period of time.

  • Fair Use - a part of U.S. copyright law that allows private, and/or educational use in some situations.

The Board of Regents considers plagiarism an act of "Academic Misconduct" (See Policy 2.33). a serious violation of the Code of Student Conduct (Policy 3.4). 

In the video below, Fred Haber, VP and General Counsel of the Copyright Clearance Center, explains the differences, as well as providing examples of when they overlap:

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