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Copyright: Home

Copyright protection in the United States is provided to creators of "original works of authorship". This protection is available to both published and unpublished works and includes widely available material such as that posted on the Web.

What is Copyright?

What is Copyright?

"Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works."

Atticus Garrison

Profile Photo
Meg Frazier
Library 127a
Subjects: Education, Engineering

Public Domain

The term “public domain” refers to creative materials that are not protected by intellectual property laws such as copyright, trademark, or patent laws. The public owns these works, not an individual author or artist. Anyone can use a public domain work without obtaining permission, but no one can ever own it.

There are four common ways that works arrive in the public domain:

  • the copyright has expired
  • the copyright owner failed to follow copyright renewal rules
  • the copyright owner deliberately places it in the public domain, known as “dedication,”
  • copyright law does not protect this type of work.

Copyright Protections

What is and isn't protected by Copyright?

102 of U.S. copyright law grants all "original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression" copyright protection. Categories works which are specially mentioned include:

  •  literary works
  • musical works, including any accompanying words
  • dramatic works, including any accompanying music
  • pantomimes and choreographic works
  • pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  • motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • sound recordings
  • architectural works

Copyright protection does not cover the following:

  • Ideas or concepts
  • Procedures
  • Processes or systems
  • Principles or discoveries
  • Works not fixed in a tangible form
  • Titles, names, short phrases, slogans (these may be protected by trademark law)
  • Lists showing no originality
  • Factual information
  • U.S. government works
  • Works in the public domain

Limits of Copyright Ownership

  • Fair Use - The "fair use" limitation on the exclusive rights of copyright owners provides a window of limited allowable uses of copyrighted material. There is no simple test to determine if a use of a copyrighted work is allowable under fair use. For further information see the Fair Use page.
  • Rights granted to Libraries under Section 108 of the Copyright Act
    • archiving lost, stolen, damaged or deteriorating works,
    • making copies for library patrons
    • making copies for other libraries' patrons (interlibrary loan)
  • The "first sale" doctrine permits the owner of a lawfully obtained copy of a copyrighted work (e.g., a book purchased at a book store) to dispose of that copy without permission of the copyright holder.
  • Performances and displays by instructors or pupils during face-to-face teaching activities at a nonprofit educational institution when in the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, the performance or the display of individual images is given by means of a copy that was lawfully made. This exception does not permit copying and/or distribution of the work; only displays or performances during class time.