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Penn State University Libraries

Conditions of Use and Other Guidance for Digital Collections

Conditions of Use Statement


Digital collections are available for research, teaching, and learning. These collections are not all part of the public domain even though they have been made publicly accessible. Moreover, even if a collection is in the public domain you should still cite where it came from and/or credit the author. For those collections under copyright protection, texts and images from the digital collections may not be used for any commercial purpose or beyond the normal “fair use” guidelines without prior permission from Penn State University and/or those parties who own the copyright. Where copyright is of concern in any material in question, that right is owned either by Penn State University, or by the original creators of the object, or their descendants. Therefore, when using any of this material, it is your responsibility, as the user, to secure permissions and adhere to the stated access policy, copyright laws, and educational fair-use guidelines.

For additional assistance, contact:

Patricia Hswe, Digital Collections Curator, Digital Curation Services | 311 West Pattee Library (Tower) | 814-867-3702

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copyright symbol


Copyright and Fair Use

Although we have tried, to the best of our abilities, to determine copyright on the materials in our digital collections, copyright of some materials may still be unknown. It is ultimately the responsibility of the user to secure permissions when using material beyond fair-use conditions. For basics on these issues, download the brochure for Copyright, Fair Use, and the Libraries (PDF).

What is Copyright?

According to the U.S. Copyright Office,  this 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.  Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.”   A circular, available courtesy of the US Copyright Office in both English  and Spanish, expands on the definition.

What is Fair Use?

The Fair-Use Statute, Section 107 includes four  factors for evaluation to determine if something falls under  an allowed “fair use.”   The statute is broad on purpose to allow for interpretation and flexibility:

  • The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes [“educational purposes” can sometimes, but not always, be a strong factor that allows copying to qualify under fair use  guidelines]
  • The nature of the copyrighted work [a compilation of facts is more likely to constitute fair use, rather than a copyrighted song].
  • The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole [the smaller the amount copied, the more likely that it will be allowed under fair use].
  • The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work [content considered to have low market value may be a better candidate for fair use].
What are Public Domain materials?

"Public domain" refers to works that are available for unrestricted copying by the general public without prior permission. Material that resides in the public domain includes works whose copyrights have expired; works that were created too early to have copyright protection; works by the federal government; and works donated to the public by authors or artists.

For more information, see the Scholarly Communications Services page on Copyright.

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Citation Guidance

Citing Materials from the Penn State Libraries Digital Collections

Screenshot of linked headings in CONTENTdm collection, with "reference URL" marked in red.
In a digital image collection, click on the "reference URL" link to access the URL for inserting in a citation.

The citation template below is only a recommendation, based on citation examples for digital collections and digital items made by peer libraries. It is also based on examples from Penn State's Special Collections Library for citing physical items:

Citation Template

[Item title, if applicable], [Collection title], Digital Collections, University Libraries, Pennsylvania State University. [Reference URL - i.e., URL for the collection, or for the item] [(Date the item or collection was accessed)].

How to find the reference URL for an item: In most of our digital image collections, when you are viewing an item in a collection, you can also access the "reference URL" for that item (see above screenshot). The URL you get when you click on "reference URL" is what you should insert in the citation for the item.

Example citation for digital item:

Anti-war and protest posters: Did we really come in peace for all mankind? Thomas W. Benson Political Poster Collection. Digital Collections, University Libraries, Pennsylvania State University. (accessed August 25, 2012).

Example citation for a digital collection:

Alice Marshall Collection, Digital Collections, University Libraries, Pennsylvania State University. (accessed August, 26, 2012).

To cite an article, newspaper, or collection of newspapers from our digital newspaper collections, please follow the citation style of your preference for newspapers and newspaper articles, using the URL for the home page of the newspaper collection.

For guidance on citing physical materials from the Special Collections Library, including University Archives, please consult this page (citation example is at the bottom).

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Obtaining Copies



>> To request reproductions of photographs from the Penn State Libraries Photo Archive, please use this request form.


>> To request reproductions of images from special collections that have been digitized, please consult this Special Collections "Help" page.




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Glossary of Terms

Glossary for Understanding Copyright

Attribution: Acknowledgment of credit to the person, group, or organization responsible for the creation of a work.

Copyright: "A form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U.S. Code) to the authors of 'original works of authorship,' including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works" (from Copyright Basics (PDF), by the U.S. Copyright Office). When a person holds copyright of a work, permission must be secured from that person in order reproduce the work. 

Copyright owner: The holder of copyright - i.e., with respect to any one of the exclusive rights contained in a copyright, this refers to the owner of that particular right.

Creative Commons: A nonprofit organization, also known as CC, committed to open "sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools" (from the Creative Commons "About" page). These tools include various CC licenses, which allow creators of original content to set the terms for copying, distributing, editing, remixing, and extending that content. See the Creative Commons Licenses page for more information about these levels of licensing.

Derivative work: A derivative work is based on an already existing work; it can be an adaptation, alteration, enhancement, or building upon, of the original work. Examples include a screenplay based on a novel; translations; thumbnail images displayed in search results; etc. For more information, see "Derivative work" in Wikipedia.

Distribution: This can have two meanings. First, distribution refers to the right of a copyright owner to provide public access to his/her original work; this can be done freely, or via a financial transaction. Second, "distribution" also happens when, as an exercise of the fair-use doctrine (see below) one uses copyrighted content (with proper citation), such as a digital image in a poster, or PowerPoint presentation. Through such means, a work is arguably distributed.

Fair use: The doctrine of fair use is intended to give users of copyrighted content an idea of non-exploitative, balanced use of that content. To determine whether use of copyrighted content qualifies as infringement or not, fair use has four factors that users should consider:

  • The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  • The nature of the copyrighted work
  • The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  • The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work 

(from "Fair Use," U.S. Copyright Office)

Infringement (in the context of copyright): Encroachment upon copyright in a way that violates it, such as unauthorized use of a copyrighted image in a blog posting. For more information, see "Copyright infringement" in Wikipedia.

Intellectual property: "Any creative work or invention considered to be the property of its creator" (from the entry for "Intellectual property" in Wikipedia.)

Licensing agreement: A contract defining terms under which a user (the licensee) may use copies of material that has been copyrighted, such as selling them, or making additional copies.

No known copyright restrictions: Reasons for this status include the following:

  • The copyrighted material has fallen into public domain, because its copyright has expired.
  • An institution owns the copyright but does not wish to enforce it.
  • An institution has sufficient authority to permit use of the material without restriction.

Permission: Authorization from the copyright owner to use his/her content.

Public domain: Works in the public domain are free of copyright, whether because of expiration, forfeit, or irrelevance of such copyright. Material that resides in the public domain also includes works that were created too early to have copyright protection; works by the federal government; and works donated to the public by authors or artists. For more information, see "Public domain" in Wikipedia.

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