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Copyright at the Fund

What You Need to Know

Key concepts to remember from this section are:

  • Most of the materials you find online or in journals, books or any fixed medium are likely copyright-protected. This includes images, music, videos, maps, etc. 
  • Use of copyright-protected material requires permission from the copyright owner.
  • Do not assume your use falls under "fair use".
  • Content that is publicly available is usually NOT in the "Public Domain"

In general, assume that all the content that is not produced by you is copyright-protected by a third party, and permission needs to be obtained from the copyright owner.  

Copyright Basics, by the Copyright Clearance Center


What is Copyright?

Copyright law protects almost every original work recorded in some physical medium and gives the owners of these works (the copyright owners) the exclusive right to:

  • make or distribute copies of the work,
  • make derivative or changed versions of the work, and
  • publicly display, perform, or transmit the work.

Copyright owners also have the right to permit others to use the copyrighted work for specific purposes. 

If you exercise any of these rights without permission, you may be infringing copyright.


For more information and specifics about what is and is not protected by Copyright, take a look at these resources from the US Copyright Office:

What is Copyright? | U.S. Copyright Office

Circular 1 Copyright Basics

Fair Use

The fair use doctrine is a limited exception to the need to obtain permission from copyright owners for certain particular uses.

Fair use:

  • may only apply in very narrow circumstances, such as in connection with criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, or scholarship.
  • is a grey area and subject to interpretation. One judge's fair use is another judge's copyright infringement.
  • is a defense to a copyright infringement action, which means that the only way to be sure a use is fair, is after a court or arbitrator's verdict is given.  

 Bottom line: For your work at the Fund, assume that fair use does not apply, and get permission before you use copyrighted material.

For more information about fair use, see below:

Measuring Fair Use: The Four Factors - Copyright Overview by Rich Stim - Stanford Copyright and Fair Use Center

Copyright and Fair Use Animation, by Common Sense Education

Public Domain

Works in the public domain are works not covered by copyright. Using those works does not require permission. However, Public Domain is not to be confused with publicly available. 

For example, IMF content from the IMF e-Library is free and publicly available, but it is not in the Public Domain. 

The Public Domain refers to works:

  • no longer protected by copyright (that is, where the copyright has expired)
  • belonging to categories of works not protected by copyright law (such as works produced by the US Federal Government and used within the United States).

Occasionally, you may also encounter material with one of the following icons below, but more often than not, works in the Public Domain are not always clearly marked as such.

You need to do your research and it is best to assume a work is NOT in the Public Domain unless you know it to be for sure. 


CC0 (CC Zero): This tool, also called the Public Domain Dedication Tool, is used to show when an author has decided to waive the rights to a work and dedicate it to the public domain.

Public Domain Mark: This symbol is a marker used to identify works in the public domain (works that are free of copyright restrictions). The Public Domain Mark is a label that does not carry legal weight.

When using works in the public domain it is good scholarly practice to include attribution to the original author.


To learn more about the Public Domain, follow the links below:

What Is the Public Domain? - Copyright courses and education in plain English

Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States | Copyright Information Center (

International Copyright

There is no such thing as an “international copyright” that will automatically protect a work throughout the world. Protection against unauthorized use in a particular country depends on the national laws of that country. However, most countries offer protection to foreign works under certain conditions that have been greatly simplified by international copyright treaties and conventions. 

The oldest and most important of these treaties is the Berne Convention, signed by nearly 180 countries. It establishes minimum standards of protections in:

  • Types of works protected
  • Duration of protection
  • Scope of exceptions
  • Limitations
  • Principles such as “national treatment” (works originating in one signatory country are given the same protection in the other signatory countries as each grants to works of its own nationals)
  • Principles such as “automatic protection” 

This guide focuses on copyright considerations in the United States, as this is where the IMF is headquartered and most of our use of third-party content occurs.