Using Copyrighted and Library Content

Find out how you can legally and ethically use copyrighted and library content in your academic research, instruction, essays & writings, and creative projects. Legal disclaimer: this copyright guide is meant for informational & educational purposes only.

Library Research Guide

Using Others' Content in Your Audiovisual Works or Videos


This page will help you understand how to legally and ethically reuse others' content when incorporating that content in your own film or audiovisual work. This content follows the chronological steps of the Framework for Analyzing any U.S. Copyright Problem.

To assist users in understanding how the Framework applies to film, the framework has been adapted and outlined on this page to specifically address how to use content in online videos, films, and other audiovisual projects.


Public Domain symbol

1. Find content in the public domain

Public domain content is free to use, because the copyright term has either expired or the work never had copyright protection. Therefore, there is no need to rely on fair use or seek permission to use content in the public domain.

Unfortunately, the majority of audiovisual content and film is not in the public domain. However, there are a number of resources below to help you find visual and audiovisual content in the public domain.

Here is an example of a film that is in the public domain.

Screenshot the 1939 film The Little Princess
Film still image from A Little Princess, 1939

The above film still image and its corresponding film, A Little Princess (1939) starring Shirley Temple, are in the public domain in the U.S.

Public Domain Resources

Find Public Domain Audiovisual Footage




Creative Commons Icon

2. Find Creative Commons Licensed (CCL) content

CCL content can easily be implemented in a video or shared on a website without the need to rely on fair use or ask permission. CCL enables authors to establish a set of licenses or permissions that determine how others can use their work. Creative Commons (CC) doesn't replace copyright, but it does make it easier to determine how someone can use a particular work. Just be sure to comply with the CCL Terms of Use.

Image from the film Elephants Dream

Image courtesy of Ton Roosendaal et al.,
from the CC BY film, Elephant's Dream

For example, all the licenses require attribution, which is as simple as including an in-text citation and/or attritbution to the source in a reference list (e.g., in the credits at the end of the video).

The caption below the image (left) is an example of a CCL image with in-text citation/attribution.

Creative Commons Resources





"Fair Use" Text above the Balance of Law Scales Image
Image courtesy of OpenClipArt-Vectors,

CC0, adapted by Rachel Miles

3. Rely on fair use (Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act).

Many filmmakers rely on fair use when using small portions of copyrighted images, songs, film, and other content.

Quick Tips:

  • Be sure you have a legal copy of the content you are using.
  • Ensure that the copyrighted work you are using is crucial to your educational, scholarly, or creative objective.
  • If the resource can easily be replaced by another resource that is in the public domain or has a CCL, it is probably not fair use.

Fair Use Resources





Permission Granted Stamp

Image adapted from

4. Request permission to use the content in your video.

  •  Be sure to specify that the content will be used in a video or an audiovisual project and available to anyone worldwide with an Internet connection (if applicable).
  • Be sure to archive all permission letters, even if it's just an email granting you permission. Only written permission is legal permission; verbal permission will not hold up in a court of law.

Permission Requests Resource