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Copyright: Copyright Basics

Copyright Basics

What is Copyright?

Copyright grants an author/creator a set of an exclusive rights to original items created by them that are "fixed in a tangible medium of expression," this means the items must be recorded, written, in a physical state, or saved as a computer file.  An exception to ownership would be resources created under "works made for hire".
The exclusive rights granted by copyright include:

  • Making copies
  • Making derivative works
  • Selling or transferring ownership
  • Preforming publicly
  • Transmitting an audio work publicly

Limitations to these exclusive rights exist in the form of fair use, library exceptions, first sale doctrine, face-to-face teaching, TEACH Act, and exceptions for blindness and other disabilities.

What is protected by copyright?

Original, creative works that are "fixed in a tangible medium of expression" are automatically granted copyright protection.   These works include:

  • Literary works
  • Musical works
  • Dramatic works
  • Choreography
  • Works of art
  • Audiovisual works
  • Sound recordings
  • Architectural designs
What is not protected by copyright?

Some materials are not granted copyright protection.  The following are NOT protected by copyright.

  • Ideas
  • Facts
  • Works in the public domain
  • Simple listings (such as a table of contents)
  • Names, Titles, Short Phrases
  • Procedures
  • Calendars
  • Symbols or Designs
How long does Copyright protection last?

Copyright protection only lasts for a specific amount of time.  Once copyright expires, the work becomes part of the public domain. 

  • Works created after 1977 are protected under copyright for the life of the author/creator plus 70 years
  • Works published between 1923-1977 may still be protected under copyright, but it depends on the date of publication, the type of authorship, the presence of copyright notice, and whether or not the copyright was renewed.
  • Works published before 1926 are part of the public domain and can be used freely.
  • The Copyright Information Center provides a detailed chart that can be used for determining the copyright status of works based on publication date and other considerations. 
  • Copyright law varies by country, some countries have international agreements, it is important to be aware of copyright law of the country in which you are creating or publishing works.
Using Copyrighted Works

There are specific circumstances in which you can legally ant ethically use copyrighted works.  These include:


More Information