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Writing, Citing, & Publishing

Learn about resources to help you through the writing and publication process.


"Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works." United States Copyright Office 

Copyright offers exclusive rights to the creators of expressive works. These rights include:

  • Making copies
  • Distributing copies
  • Performing or displaying work
  • Making derivative works

What type of works can be copyrighted?

  • literary works
  • musical works, including any accompanying words
  • dramatic works, including any accompanying music
  • pantomines and choreographic works
  • pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  • motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • sound recordings
  • architectural works

The Fair Use doctrine is often invoked whenever someone wants to use a copyright-protected work in an educational setting without the formal permission of the copyright owner. However, determining fair use is not so cut-and-dry. Section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law allows for some uses of portions of copyrighted works for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. 

Section 107 identifies four factors by which Fair Use is determined:

  1. Purpose of use
  2. Nature of the original work
  3. Amount or portion used
  4. Effect of the use on potential market/value of the work

Any determination of Fair Use must take all FOUR factors into consideration.

How do I know if what I'm doing is covered by fair use?

These are several tools that may help inform your decision to use copyrighted works.


“The distinction between what is fair use and what is infringement in a particular case will not always be clear or easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.”  – U.S. Copyright Office

Can you just tell me if what I'm doing qualifies as fair use?

You can ask us and we can help guide you to the right answer. However, it's purely that: guidance. We're not legal experts and are not in the business of dispensing legal advice.

Plagiarism and Self-Plagiarism

Plagiarism is an ethical issue of using someone else's work without proper attribution or credit though it may not advance to the level of copyright infringement. Text recycling, also known as self-plagiarism, is when sections of the same text appear in more than one of an author’s own publications. Writers are well-advised to be mindful about the use of sources in the writing process, to keep track of sources, to paraphrase them correctly, and to refer to style guides, writing manuals, and other resources included in this GalterGuide for guidance.

Anti-plagiarism software used in education and publishing:

  • Turnitin anti-plagiarism software is used in Northwestern's course management system, Canvas
    • Contact: Northwestern Information Teaching and Learning Technologies. Galter Library does not provide access to this tool.
  • Free (or free trial) anti-plagiarism checkers may offer limited features without subscription. They may target the needs of authors, educators, or editors. Examples include but are not limited to DupliCheckerPlagiarismDetector, Quetext
    • Note: None of these is endorsed or specifically recommended by Galter Library.


Seeking Permission to use Copyrighted Material

Find the copyright holder

If you've determined that something does not fall under fair use guidelines and you still want to use it, you can seek permission from the copyright holder. It can often be tricky figuring out who is the copyright holder. Copyright on a figure or table in a journal article or book will usually be held by the publisher, not the author. Seeking permission can be time-intensive and frustrating.

Pay royalties

Another way to seek permissions and manage possible royalty payments is to work through a licensing agency such as the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC), which represents a number of publishers. Advantages are efficiency, speed, and easy ways to pay. However, there are usually fees for using the service, in addition to the royalty charges, sometimes quite high.

Check out the University of Michigan's helpful guide to obtaining copyright permissions