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Copyright: Copyright

A collection of resources on the subject of copyright.

Guide Overview

books,cases,gavels,government,judicial systems,laws

This toolkit is provided to assist you in finding the information you need about copyright.  If you need assistance, contact the Sladen Information Desk.

Click on the tabs along the top of the page to see the Copyright resources in each category.

This guide does not supply legal advice and is not intended to replace the advice of legal counsel.

Digital Copyright Slider

Use the Digital Copyright Slider to assist you in determining if a work is protected by copyright or is in the public domain.

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What is Copyright?

Copyright is a protection that covers published and unpublished literary, scientific and artistic works, whatever the form of expression, provided such works are fixed in a tangible or material form. (United States Law, Title, 17, U.S. Code)

In order to be protected by copyright, a work must be:

  • original
  • creative
  • a work of authorship
  • fixed

Copyright covers the creation of a work from the moment it is put into a tangible form: Random access memory (RAM) on your computer, notes on a piece of paper, etc. The work does not need to published to be covered under copyright.

These items ARE protected by copyright: 

  • written works
  • images
  • sound recordings
  • software
  • movies
  • music
  • sculpture
  • dance

These items ARE NOT protected by copyright: 

  • works that are not fixed
  • titles, names and slogans
  • ideas, facts and data
  • concepts, principles, and discoveries
  • lists of contents or ingredients
  • processes, methods, systems, and procedures
  • all works prepared by the U.S. government
  • the Constitutions and laws of state governments
  • materials that have passed into the public domain

What is Fair Use?

Fair Use is an exception to the protection of copyright under U.S. law. It permits certain limited uses without permission from the author or owner. Fair Use usually applies to criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship or research.

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, there are four criteria that must be considered to determine if the use of a work is covered by fair use:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of 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

  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work

Source: FL-102: Fair Use

The criteria of what is considered fair use and what is considered infringement is not always clear.  Copyright law does not specify how much of a work (number of lines or words) can be used under fair use.

Why is Copyright Important?

Copyright gives authors specific rights in regards to their works.  These rights include the following (United States Law, Title, 17, U.S. Code):

  • to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords;
  • to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work;
  • to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;
  • in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works, to perform the copyrighted work publicly;
  • in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to display the copyrighted work publicly; and
  • in the case of sound recordings, to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.

Copyright owners can seek copyright infringement penalties from those who use their copyrighted work without permission and outside of the scope of fair use.