Frequently Asked Questions

Library worker in restoration room
Can I use this image in my thesis/dissertation/scholarly article?

You can consult the Making Copyright Decisions to explore possible bases for including the image. If use of such images in this kind of scholarly publication is common practice in your academic field, and it is directly related to the argument you are making, then it may be a fair use of the image. You should review the Fair Use Factors and make a thoughtful, good-faith determination of whether your use is fair.

If you are considering relying on the fair use defense, you should ensure proper attribution of the image, use as little of the image as possible, and clearly reference the image in your text.

Decorative or aesthetic uses – such as on a cover – and duplicative uses are less likely to be fair. If you determine that you need permission for the use, keep in mind that many images may have three or more rights holders: (1) the owner of the copyright (usually the creator or publisher); (2) the photographer of three-dimensional artworks/objects; and (3) the owner of the physical artwork, if a high-quality image is needed. See Obtaining Permission for more information.

Can I use this music on my blog or website?

It depends. Like all other copyrightable material, original music is copyrighted the moment it is preserved in a fixed format and may have several layers of copyright:

  1. the musical composition/arrangement may be copyrighted;
  2. the performance by the artist may be copyrighted; and
  3. the sound recording may be copyrighted. An artist, music publisher or a record label may own one, two or three of these copyrights, depending on how the music was created and recorded.

As with all copyrighted material, copyrighted music may be used for “fair use”, so using small portions for non-profit, educational purposes is usually defensible. Note that if you sell ads on your website or blog, the use may not qualify as “non-profit”. You will be less likely to receive a challenge from a copyright owner if you are sharing the music on a password-protected site, or in a way that limits access to a specific class for a specific semester or term.

If uploaded copyrighted music is not for “fair use,” a license may be required. Licensing music may be done through various music publishers. Use this guide to help identify the appropriate publisher.

For additional information, especially for blogs and similar sites, you may want to explore a guide from the Electronic Freedom Foundation.

How should I attribute a work that I do not own?

In any form of scholarship, attribution is essential. Whether or not the materials are still under copyright, the sources for all third party materials should be appropriately credited. Material found on the web must be used consistent with any applicable restrictions including specific phrasing for attribution. Proper attribution contains:

  • Maker name, dates
  • Title of work, date
  • Medium of work
  • Credit line of holding institution
  • Copyright statement/photo credit if applicable
I have a photograph that I took, and there are people in it. Do I need releases from them before I can use my own photograph?

Photographs of people may raise copyright issues, but they also raise issues of personal privacy and the right to control one’s image. While you own the copyright in photographs that you created, you generally may not use images of human beings (1) that you took in private spaces, not open to the public, and/or (2) for commercial purposes. Permission from the people pictured is needed to resolve privacy issues (1) and/or issues about the right of publicity (2). However, permission is not required to use photographs of Princeton students, including those performing in University programs.  In siutations where permission is required (e.g., minors or a visiting professional performer) a form can be found at the Office of Communications Contracts and Forms webpage.

Does my student organization need to get permission to show this movie?

The Copyright Act governs how copyrighted materials, such as movies, may be used. Films rented (streamed or physical media), purchased or checked out from the library do not necessarily have performance rights. For films checked out from the library, a librarian can investigate the rights for you.In some instances no license is required to view a movie, such as at home with family and friends and in certain face-to-face teaching activities.

When do we need permission, and when don’t we need permission?

  • You may not need permission if the film is being screened for educational purposes. Movie viewings in the context of a classroom environment often do not require rights. If the distributor has special permissions for films shown for educational purposes, they may need to give you the written confirmation you need to protect your event under the law and University policy. If you think your program may be considered an educational viewing, email and we can help you determine whether your program is considered educational in nature.
  • You do not necessarily need permission if you are showing brief parts of the film. There is no set rule for what “brief” means in this context, but a general rule is that these snippets are acceptable when the event is free, when the snippet does not reveal key plot items to the film, when the length of the showing is insubstantial, and when it doesn’t effect people’s likelihood of seeing the entire film.
  • Academic departments may already have permission to show the film. If you are showing the film in conjunction with an academic department, that department may already have permission. Check with the department to be sure.

Some common examples when permission is necessary are:

  • Any time you show a film in the Frist Center, your dormitory eating hall, or any other public university space (this is any lounge or common area). These spaces are considered “public” spaces, and showing the movie in these areas is the equivalent to showing them in a theater.
  • If you have used publicity to invite your audience to the showing (this includes but is not limited to mass emails, letters, flyers, and web postings). Because movie rentals are intended for private use, renting them does not provide you with the permission you need to have a public showing in which an audience is invited.
  • If you are charging admission for the showing or an event in conjunction with the showing (charging for a food that will accompany the film, for example).

How can I obtain movie rights?

Getting permission for showing most films is fairly simple. For some rare or international films, it may prove to be a bit trickier. However, there are resources on campus to help you if you should have problems. Most “mainstream” films come from one of two main distributors, or you can search for the proper source:

SWANK Motion Pictures, Incorporated – the web site for this company is, and the phone number is 1-800-876-5577. The list of films they distribute is on their web page, but they add new films everyday.

Criterion – Another company like SWANK, they are the other big distributor. Their web site is, and their phone number is 1-800-890-9494.

Conduct a web search—a good place to start is, the Internet Movie Database. Simply go to the site, type in your film in the search area on the left, and choose the correct film out of the results. Once you choose your film, go to the “Company Credits” and look up “distribution.”

If you STILL can’t find out who distributes the film, you can call (310) 247-3020, to the Reference Library of the Motion Picture Academy.

What is a film distributor going to ask me?

  • Your name, and the name of the organization you are working with
  • How you intend to show the film (advertise all over campus vs. to a small group, whether you are charging, what venue you are showing the film in)
  • If there is a charge, how your organization will pay
  • When you intend to show the film
  • Contact information for your organization
  • Whether or not you need them to send you a copy of the film

Is this going to cost money?

Many movies can be shown for a reasonable fee, such as $300.00. The only way for you to determine this is to call the distributor, explain under what context the film will be shown, and see what they can do for you. Have all of the information handy about your event when you speak with the film’s distributor.

How can I learn more about copyright?

Please contact us at to schedule a consultation on your questions or request a workshop or training on specific copyright topics.