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Copyright and Fair Use

Copyright Basics

An introduction to copyright.

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What are the rights provided by copyright?

Copyright exists to encourage “authors” to share their creative works by giving them certain rights which will allow them to profit from their work. These rights come from the Copyright Act of 1976 (Title 17, US Code).


The Rights

The rights protected by copyright include:

Rights to Reproduce and Distribute
•Including the rights to copy, publish, sell, and share works.
Right to Create Derivatives
•An example of a derivative is a movie made from a book, or a photograph transferred onto a t-shirt.
Rights to Perform or Display Publicly
•Performances include public readings, musical performances, movie viewings, gallery exhibits, etc.
Right to License
•Licensing authorizes other to do the above.


What can be copyrighted?

Copyright protects "original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression" (Title 17, Section 102, US Code).


Copyright is AUTOMATIC

  • Works do NOT need to be registered to receive copyright protection.
  • Works do NOT need to be labeled as copyrighted to receive copyright protection.


Copyright Applies To

  • Literary Works
  • Musical Works & Lyrics
  • Dramatic Works
  • Pantomimes / Choreography
  • Pictorial / Graphic / Sculptural Works
  • Motion Pictures / AV Works
  • Sound Recordings
  • Architectural Works
  • Digital Works (including Email and Software)


Copyright Typically Lasts

  • Life of the author + 70 years
  • 120 years from date of creation (anonymous or corporate)
  • 95 years from date of publication (corporate)


Examples of Copyrighted Works

Books, magazines, journals, newsletters, maps, charts, photographs, graphic materials, and other printed materials; unpublished materials, such as analysts' and consultants' reports, term papers, letters, and diaries; three dimensional works, including sculptures, paintings, murals, and other artistic works; and electronic materials, such as websites, blogs, emails, pdfs, computer programs and other software, sound recordings, motion pictures, and video files. 

Copyright Does Not Apply

Other laws such as patents and trademarks may apply, but the following types of works cannot by copyrighted:

  • Ideas, Discoveries, Procedures / Methods
  • Facts, News
  • Titles, Slogans, Names
  • Works with no creativity
  • Works by the US Government