Using Copyrighted Materials and Determining Copyright Status

The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Library faculty and staff do not provide interpretations of copyright laws nor are we responsible for assisting users with researching and determining the copyright status of materials. Below are resources to guide you in researching copyright.

The United States Copyright Office provides educational resources including answers to common questions about copyright.

The Copyright Clearance Center offers a Resource Library of white papers, eBooks, infographics, podcast episodes, videos and more.

Determining copyright status & locating copyright holders

Public Domain. The Library will not make public domain determinations for researchers. For assistance in determining whether a work is in the public domain, the following resources may assist your investigation: 

  • Public Domain guide: The University of California Office of the President provides helpful information on determining if an item is in the public domain. 
  • Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States: Cornell University Libraries provides a detailed chart on copyright terms and when an item is in the public domain. 
  • Copyright Renewals: Stanford Libraries provides a database of copyright renewals that can be used in conjunction with Cornell’s detailed chart on copyright terms.

Finding Copyright Holders. For help locating third-party copyright holder(s), the following resources may assist your investigation:

  • WATCH File: The WATCH File (Writers, Artists, and Their Copyright Holders) is a database containing primarily the names and addresses of copyright holders or contact persons for authors and artists whose archives are housed, in whole or in part, in libraries and archives in North America and the United Kingdom.
  • U.S. Copyright Catalog: The U.S. Copyright Office provides this database to search for copyright information on all works registered with the U.S. Copyright Office after January 1, 1978.
  • For materials to which third parties hold the copyright but the physical copies are stewarded by Hamilton Library, you may also contact UHM Library at to determine whether the Library has any information about the potential copyright holder. The Library makes no representations about the accuracy or completeness of copyright ownership information in its collections.

Obtaining copyright permission

Users are responsible for obtaining copyright permission and determining other legal restrictions that may apply to the material’s use and distribution such as privacy and publicity rights; contract and other restrictions. 

This chart is applicable to obtaining copyright permissions only.

Copyright Status of Work Action Required by User
Works in Public Domain No action needed.
University of Hawaiʻi owns the copyright University of Hawaiʻi controls rights. Seek university permission if intended use exceeds fair use.
Third-party owns the copyright Third-party controls rights. Contact rights holder if intended use exceeds fair use.

Determining whether your intended use is fair use

United States copyright law contains a limited exception for certain uses made for teaching, scholarship, research, criticism, commentary, and news reporting. It is the researcher’s responsibility to determine whether the intended use is a fair use. The Hamilton Library cannot make a fair use determination for you. For guidelines on what uses qualify for the fair use exception, please see:

Additional laws and restrictions

Please keep in mind that there are several laws and policies outside of copyright that also affect publication permission.

  • Privacy & Publicity Rights: In addition, a researcher must also comply with applicable federal and state privacy and publicity laws when publishing certain materials. While copyright laws protect the copyright owner’s property rights in the work, privacy and publicity laws protect the interests of the individuals who are the subject of the work. In general, a person’s right to privacy ends with his or her death, but publicity rights associated with the commercial value of that person’s name, image, or likeness may continue after death. It is a researcher’s sole responsibility for addressing issues of privacy and publicity rights when publishing content from Library materials. For more information on privacy & publicity laws and rights, see the Digital Media Law Project page on privacy and publicity.
  • Gift or Donor Agreements: Requests to publish archival and other special collections materials stewarded by the Library may be subject to gift or donor agreement limitations. The Library reserves all rights to grant and deny Permission to Publish Request & Agreement inquiries based on these limitations.


Text adapted, with permission, from UC Berkeley Library Permissions Policies statement. (n.d.). Retrieved on Mar 19, 2020 from

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