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What is copyright?

Copyright provides legal protection for the creator of an original work to control its use and to authorize its use by others. Protection is provided for published and unpublished works when fixed in a tangible medium. Copyright protection includes the rights to:

  • reproduce the work
  • prepare derivative works
  • distribute copies
  • perform the work publicly
  • display the work publicly

See Copyright Basics, Circular 1, United States Copyright Office for more information.

What does copyright protect?

Copyright protection applies to:

(1) literary works;

(2) musical works, including any accompanying words;

(3) dramatic works, including any accompanying music;

(4) pantomimes and choreographic works;

(5) pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;

(6) motion pictures and other audiovisual works;

(7) sound recordings; and

(8) architectural works.

Copyright Law of the United States, 17 U.S. Code, §102(a)

What is not protected by copyright?

"In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work."

Copyright Law of the United States, 17 U.S. Code, §102(b)

What is the public domain?

Works that are not protected by copyright are considered to be in the public domain.

Examples include works with expired copyrights, those that are ineligible for copyright protection, all works published before 1928, and works of the United States government.

See Duration of Copyright for the law on copyright terms.

Where did copyright come from?

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

Article I, Section 8, Clause 8

Copyright Tools

Provided by the American Library Association and other sources, these interactive tools may provide guidance on questions related to copyright, use of copyrighted materials in the classroom, fair use exceptions, and the public domain.

Copyright Websites

Fair Use

Fair use is an exception that allows the use of copyrighted materials under certain conditions. Four factors should be considered in determining fair use:

  1. Purpose
  2. Amount
  3. Nature
  4. Effect

According to the United States Copyright Law:

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

Heather Getsay

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Heather Getsay
204 Bailey Library

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