Copyright: Basics

What is copyright?
Copyright is a bundle of rights that includes the right to copy, distribute, publish, perform, and display a work, as well as to prepare derivative works. Copyright is set forth in the U.S. Constitution to “promote the progress of science and the useful arts” by giving authors control over their works for a limited time. Federal copyright laws have been enacted in 17 U.S. Code ยง101 et seq.


What is covered by copyright?
Any original content you create in a tangible format! This includes not only scholarly work, but even your to-do list at home, your monthly report, your email messages, your child’s art work or notes you take at meetings and presentations. Works that can be copyrighted include, but are not limited to, literary, musical, and dramatic works; pantomimes and choreographic works; pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works; sound recordings; motion pictures and other AV works; computer programs, architectural works; and compilations and derivative works.


Who is the copyright owner?
Generally, the author or authors of a work own the copyright. If an employee creates a work within the scope of her employment then the employer generally owns the copyright. This is considered a work made for hire.


Does material on the Web have copyright protection?
Material on the Internet is copyrighted. Look for terms and conditions of acceptable use for images and text you find online before copying and using any content.


Are images, music, or video from a web site copyrighted?
Since most creative expression is copyrighted as soon as it is fixed in tangible form, you should assume that most material on websites is copyrighted.


What is not covered by copyright?
Ideas, facts, slogans, names and short phrases cannot be copyrighted. Methods of operations, systems, processes, principles, discoveries, and procedures cannot be copyrighted, although it may be possible to copyright the way these things are expressed.


How long does copyright last?
The term for copyright protection has changed over the years. Currently, copyright lasts from the moment a work is created until 70 years after the death of the author, except for works produced by a company/employer. In those cases, the copyright lasts 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from creation. Works produced prior to 1978 have variable durations. For a more detailed explanation of possible copyright terms see Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States.


What are public domain works?
Works in the public domain have no copyright and can be used freely. They include works in which the copyright period has expired, such as most works published in the U.S. before 1923, or works which never had copyright protection, such as many materials published by the U.S. federal government, or works elected to be placed in the public domain through a Creative Commons license.


Public domain resources
Copyright Advisory Office of Columbia University: Lists numerous sources of public domain works.

Stanford Copyright and Fair Use Office: More information about the public domain.

Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States: Detailed chart showing copyright term lengths.


 

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License. Information contained in the following webpages has been adapted from the Copyright Resources Center at The Ohio State University Libraries and the University of Minnesota Libraries

This web site presents information about copyright law. The LRC make every effort to assure the accuracy of this information but do not offer it as counsel or legal advice. Consult an attorney for advice concerning your specific situation.