What copyright and "fair use" issues do student need to be aware of?

It is unlikely that any Parkland graphic design students will run into problems regarding copyright violations, but it is important be responsible and aware of the legal and moral issues.

Your Rights

There are several ways to protect one's own copyrights. Although the use of a copyright notice is advisable, work published after March 1, 1989 is automatically protected under copyright laws as soon as it is "published" (copied digitally or traditionally). It is possible to gain additional protection by paying a fee to register copyrighted work with the Copyright Office in Washington, DC, but most people do not bother. Instead, you can gain "legal" protection by mailing yourself a copy of the work in a self-addressed stamped envelope. The unopened envelope can then be used in court as evidence. It is important to note that only illustration, photography and copywriting can be copyrighted. Graphic design (or "layout") can not be copyrighted.

Fair Use - The Rights Of Others

There exists a provision of the Copyright Act called Fair Use, which limits the copyright holder's rights in order to promote free speech and learning. Among other situations, it allows copyrighted material to be reproduced for the purposes of teaching and learning. Here are some examples:
  • Allowed: If in the course of a classroom project and you need to use published ("copyrighted") images, it is allowed in the context of the class because the project is a learning experience.
  • Not Allowed: If you were to take that piece you created in class and republish it in your online portfolio in order to seek employment or freelance work. If you do so, the copyright owner might sue you since you are profiting from their labor.
  • Allowed: If you were to post someone else's work on your website as an example of inspirational artwork, it is considered fair use if you give proper credit and not make a profit from the post.
  • Not Allowed: Posting the said work on your website without credit (therefore implying that it is your own) or using it to sell ads for your site, or any other use that results in you profiting from the image.

Further Reading
Downloading legal images to use in your projects (FAQ)