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Copyright: For Students


Can I use another person's work in my own so long as I don't copy more than 10-20% of the original?

  • There are no fixed numbers that are "ok" to copy - the law is less tangible than that
  • The law requires you scrutinize each use, weighing all appropriate factors, rather than using a mathematical percentage as a "safe harbor"

Is the clothing/fashion accessory I design protected by copyright?

  • This one is tricky because clothing, in the US, is considered a "useful article" and as such is not eligible for copyright protection as a whole
  • Certain elements of the design process are covered by copyright, but the cut and overall final product itself are not
  • Some embellishments may be considered enough of an addition to the work that it extends beyond the "useful article" idea but the underlying work itself will not qualify for copyright
  • Interestingly, fabric patterns are eligible for copyright

What about furniture or automobiles?

  • See previous answer - the underlying design is not copyrightable, but elements of the whole may qualify

See the "For Artists" tab for more information.

Appropriating Others' Work

When looking to incorporate others' work into your own creations, think about how you would like your artwork to be treated. At the very least, you probably want it attributed to you. Even though students have a lot of leeway in using copyrighted material for educational purposes, it is good practice to become accustomed to complying with copyright restrictions for your own professional practice.

There is no set amount that is "ok" to borrow from an original work, nor is there a set amount of changes that must be made to the original before it can be used without copyright infringement. If making a Fair Use argument about using another's work, it is important to keep the fourth factor in mind: how does your use affect the market for the original? If you are using the original artwork in a way that is similar to how it was designed to be used, you are likely damaging the profit the original artist could have made from the work.

Need More Information?

If you're not sure if the work you want to use is still under copyright, see the "Exceptions > Public Domain" tab. For more information on using another's copyrighted materials in your own work, as well as how to protect your work, see the "For Artists" tab.

College for Creative Studies website