Copyright/Licensing & Intellectual Property

When you’re creating content for the open web, you want to ensure that your webpages, media, and other resources are in compliance with copyright laws. Similarly, you also want to ensure that you are protecting your own intellectual property, with regards to the content you create!


The U.S. Copyright Office describes copyright as follows: “Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture.”

You cannot reuse works under copyright without permission from the creator. If you do not have explicit permission from the creator, or if you are not sure of the copyright or licensing status of a work (image, audio file, video), do not include it directly on your website, and instead use an alternative (and link out to the work in its original home, if it exists elsewhere on the web).

Grinnell College’s Copyright policy can be found on the College’s Policies page.

Where to Find Media for Your Website

While you can’t use works under copyright without permission, many creators on the web have licensed their work in other ways to allow others to use them freely, with the creator’s explicit permission!

Creative Commons Licensing

The creative commons is a global non-profit open licensing organisation which provides a legal framework for using content from contributors all over the world. Through a variety of Creative Commons Licenses, creators can allow others to use and remix their work to various degrees.

Here’s the description of the different types of licenses available from the creative commons licensing website – there are different levels of licensing using some combination of each of the licenses listed below:

Creative Commons Attribution license icon

Attribution (BY)
All CC licenses require that others who use your work in any way must give you credit the way you request, but not in a way that suggests you endorse them or their use. If they want to use your work without giving you credit or for endorsement purposes, they must get your permission first.

Creative Commons Share Alike license icon

ShareAlike (SA)
You let others copy, distribute, display, perform, and modify your work, as long as they distribute any modified work on the same terms. If they want to distribute modified works under other terms, they must get your permission first.

Creative Commons NonCommercial license icon

NonCommercial (NC)
You let others copy, distribute, display, perform, and (unless you have chosen NoDerivatives) modify and use your work for any purpose other than commercially unless they get your permission first.

Creative Commons No Derivatives license icon

NoDerivatives (ND)
You let others copy, distribute, display and perform only original copies of your work. If they want to modify your work, they must get your permission first.

Sources for Creative Commons and Open Licenses Content

Public Domain

It’s also possible for created works to be freed from any licensing or attribution requirements altogether by being released into the public domain. Creative works are typically automatically released into the public domain many decades after they are created. Creators wishing to waive all rights (including attribution) sometimes struggle to enter their work into the public domain because various legal frameworks, so the Creative Commons provides the CC0 licence to allow the status of their work to be as close as possible to public domain.

Sources for Public Domain/Similar Content

Your Intellectual Property

As a creator, you own your own intellectual property, including everything you put on the web – whether it’s the web content you write, the images you create, the videos you make, the audio you record, and more. You own the rights to your own work.

As a creator, if you are interested in allowing others to reuse and perhaps even remix your work, you can license your work under one of the several Creative Commons licenses listed above. Here is more from Creative Commons on how to share your work as a creator.

Grinnell College’s Intellectual Property policy can be found on the College’s Policies page.

This page uses and remixes content from “Sourcing Media (The Right Way)” by Coventry University, published under a CC-BY-NC 4.0 license.