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Digital Media Copyright Permissions

The various types of digital media and how to use them ethically and legally.

Privately Owned and Copyrighted Materials

Permission to use the work must be sought and obtained from the copyright owner or publisher. See the questions in the Ethical and Legal Use of Digital Media FAQ.

Penn State Owned and Copyrighted Materials

Obtain permission to use the work from the department that administers it. For further information regarding the use of Penn State owned and copyrighted materials, contact the Intellectual Property Office at (814) 865-6277.

The University seal, identity mark, the Intercollegiate Athletics logo, the Nittany Lion Statue, and the words "The Pennsylvania State University," "Penn State," "PSU," "Nittany Lion(s)," and "The Nittany Lion Inn," are trademarked and owned by the Penn State. For information on the correct use of any University symbols, contact the Department of University Publications at (814) 863-1870. Use of any registered trademarks by a University employee or student is permitted. Please bear in mind that when you use any of these names or symbols, you are reflecting the image of your University.

For more information on the use of these marks by University employees or students call the Department of University Publications at (814) 863-1870. Use of any of registered University symbols by non-University individuals, must be cleared by the Office of Licensing Programs at (814) 865-0356. The songs "Alma Mater," "Fight On State," and "The Nittany Lion" are also copyrighted by the University. For information regarding use of these and other Penn State musical compositions, contact the Penn State Blue Band Office at (814) 865-3982.

Other specific products that are owned by the University may be administered by the originating departments.

Other Penn State Owned Materials

Penn State-owned material for which no copyright claims have been registered may also be available. Prior to the use of these products, permission should be requested from the Penn State department administering them. Permission for use is often granted. It should be noted that, even if copyright claims are not registered, copyrights exist on any piece of work that has been expressed in any fixed medium. Therefore, seeking permission prior to use is not only a courtesy but prudent practice as well.

Penn State-owned but not necessarily registered copyrighted works include maps, graphics, photographs, and slides Maps of the University are generally available for educational use. For information regarding permission to use University maps, contact Deasy Geographics Laboratory at (814) 863-4562.
Visual images of University buildings and structures may be available for nonprofit educational use depending on their specific content. For information regarding permission to use images of University structures, contact the Department of University Publications at (814) 863-1870.

Penn State Site-Licensed Materials

Site licenses are a convenient source for obtaining copyrighted works because the University has already clarified the ownership and permission issues. Before using something from a site-licensed collection, make sure your intended use is covered by the site-license agreement. Managers of site-licensed collections will be familiar with the details of the license agreement or will direct you to the pertinent language of the license.

Public Domain Items

Works that are in the public domain and are designated clearly as such are available for use by members of the Penn State community without permission. It is often very difficult to determine if something is in the public domain. For example, the copyright on the music and lyrics of a song may have expired, but a particular recording of that song may still be copyrighted. You must be certain that something you wish to use has come into the public domain through the expiration of its copyright or has been placed in the public domain by its creator. For information on determining the public domain status of a particular work, contact a member of the Penn State professional library staff.


Products that are identified as "shareware licensed," like software so designated, are available for use in compliance with their license, which generally requests a small payment for use after the fact. Few audio or visual images or image collections are in the shareware category.

Unclear Ownership

Many works have unclear ownership because their copyright ownership has changed over time through publishing or display, or because they have so often appeared in public performance and display that their ownership has become unclear. This is the most difficult and problematic category of use of intellectual property. The law itself often is not clear. Before using something that has unclear copyright ownership, seek as much assistance in clarifying ownership as possible.Restrictions on the use of copyrighted works vary widely from publisher to publisher. Check each work carefully before using or distributing it.

Exercise your responsibility to the community. Do not receive, use, or distribute unauthorized copies of copyrighted works. Responsible use will enhance the University's ability to negotiate license and royalty agreements that will benefit the campus as a whole.

Obtain Copyright Permission

If all this sounds tricky and complicated, you're right; it is. However, Penn State is committed to providing support for the members of its community as we endeavor to use copyrighted works ethically and legally.

Purchasing and obtaining permission to use copyrighted works and products can be expensive, but there are legal alternatives. Follow the above advice to make sure your use of digital media is ethical and legal.