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Copyright Clarity: Copyright

Confused about the difference between copyright, fair use, and the public domain? Not sure what you can freely use versus what you need permission to use? Wondering where plagiarism comes into play?

What is and is NOT protected?

What IS protected?

  • Literary works
  • Music and lyrics
  • Dramatic works and music
  • Pantomimes and choreographic works
  • Photographs, graphics, paintings and sculptural works
  • Motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • Video games and computer software
  • Audio recordings
  • Architectural works

What is NOT protected?

  • Unfixed works that have not been recorded (a song you made up and sang in the shower)
  • A work in the public domain (see public domain)
  • Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; numbers
  • Ideas and facts (see plagiarism)
  • Processes and systems (the DDC)
  • Federal government works

A few copyright FAQs

When does copyright start?

Copyright status is automatic upon creation of your original creative work in a fixed, tangible form (even scribbled on a napkin). Registration with the US Copyright Office is not necessary.

How long does copyright last?

That's not always a simple answer... using an online tool like the Digital Copyright Slider is helpful but here's a general rule:

  • Original works created after 1977, copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years from the author's death.
  • Works made for hire (corporate works) created after 1977 can last from 95-120 years after publication.

Can I use a portion of a copyrighted work?

Yes, but there are limits. See fair use.

If there is no copyright symbol, does that mean it's free to use?

No! A copyright symbol is not required to maintain copyright. It is simply a reminder that a particular work is protected by copyright.

If I cite this source am I avoiding copyright infringement?

Not necessarily... Although it's the right thing to do and an important academic skill. You must determine if what you are using follows fair use. If it doesn't, you need to ask permission to use the work.

What is copyright?

Copyright is a form of Legal protection automatically provided to the authors of the "original works of authorship," including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works. The owner of the original work has  the exclusive right to:

  • Reporoduce (copy) or distribute the original work to the public (create and sell copies of a song)
  • Create new works based upon the original (make a movie based on a book)
  • Perform or display the work publicly (perform a play)

A real-life scenario from John Green

Worthy Websites

Copyright Explained