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This LibGuide provides basic information about U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17) and discusses exemptions to exclusive rights.

Review of United States Copyright Law

Copyright Law of the United States: United States Code (U.S.C.) 17

The Copyright Law of the U.S. is codified in title 17 of the U.S. Code. The Constitutional purpose of copyright law is to "promote the progress of science and the useful arts".

  • Copyright law was not put in place to be a stumbling block...

  • It was created as an incentive for authors and creators and was meant to foster the progress of science, and culture, and to encourage the creation and dissemination of ideas.

  • Copyright protection is not supposed to endure indefinitely... the works eventually pass into the public domain to be freely used and built upon.

  • While creators should be rewarded for their intellectual contributions, their work should also be available to others to be used and built upon in the creation of new works, and so on and so forth...

  • Copyright law aims to strike a balance between these two concepts.

What is Protected by Copyright?

What is Protected Under Copyright Law?

The purpose of this law is to protect "original works of authorship" once they are "fixed" in a tangible form of expression.

 "Original Works of Authorship" = types of works that are protected by this law

  • Literary works

  • Musical works, including accompanying lyrics

  • 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

"Fixed" = the point at which a work is protected by copyright law

"A work is "created" when it is fixed in a copy or phonorecord for the first time; where a work is prepared over a period of time, the portion of it that has been fixed at any particular time constitutes the work as of that time, and where the work has been prepared in different versions, each version constitutes a separate work." 17 U.S.C. §101

You are able to register any eligible work of authorship with the U.S. Copyright Office, but this is not necessary. Copyright protection is IMMEDIATE. Once a poem, story, book chapter, art work, etc. move from your mind to a tangible, fixed format, your creation is protected. Copyright law protects both published and unpublished works.

Copyright Basics

In order to guarantee copyright compliance, each separate use of any copyrighted work must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Below are some basic guidelines regarding the use of copyrighted materials:

Seeking permission from the rights holder is the most reliable method to ensure compliance with copyright law.

When using copyright-protected works, it is important that electronic access to the documents meet the following criteria:

  • Password protected: Only students that are enrolled in a particular course will have access to materials.
  • Display the copyright notice for the document and provide the appropriate citation information for the source used.  

What is Not Protected by Copyright

What is Not Protected by Copyright?

  • works of the United States Government (but the United States Government is not precluded from receiving and holding copyrights transferred to it by assignment, bequest, or otherwise)

  • works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression (for example, choreographic works that have not been notated or recorded, or improvisational speeches or performances that have not been written or recorded)

  • *titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring; mere listings of ingredients or contents

  • **ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration

  • works consisting entirely of information that is common property and containing no original authorship (for example: standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures and rulers, and lists or tables taken from public documents or other common sources)

  • Fact, data, news

  • articles with a utilitarian purpose (e.g. clothing, tables, chairs)

  • Works that lack creativity/originality (e.g. a phone book)

  • recipes

*brand names, short phrases, and slogans may be eligible for trademark

**ideas procedures, methods, systems, and processes may be eligible for patent

U.S. Copyright Office FAQ: What Does Copyright Protect?

If you have questions, or would like more information about WHAT copyright protects, please see document available at the link above.

Copy Rights Exclusive to Creators

17 U.S.C. § 106 Grants Creators these Exclusive Rights

1. Reproduction

2. Adaptation (Creation of derivative works based on the copyrighted work)

3. Publication (Distribution)

4. Public performance

5. Public display

6. Digitally transmit sound recordings

Creators have the exclusive right to DO any and all of the above and to AUTHORIZE others to do any of the above.

Questions about copyright?

Please contact Library staff if you have general or specific questions regarding copyright compliance. Library staff will help faculty and staff request permission for use of copyrighted material when necessary.  The Department seeking permission to use copyrighted material will be responsible for any applicable fees.

Contact Amanda Wiesenhofer
Electronic Resources & Library Systems Administrator or (217) 786-2475