The U.S. Copyright Office defines copyright as "a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U.S. Code) to the authors of original works of authorship, including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works."
The law gives the owner of copyright the following exclusive rights:
What does copyright protect?
Types of works protected by copyright include:
When a work is created in a fixed form it immediately becomes the property of the author that created it. This is not the case if the author has transferred their rights to someone else through a written agreement (example: publishing agreement).
The authors of a joint work are automatically co-owners of the copyright of the work, unless there is an agreement stating otherwise.
If the work is created as part of a person's employment it may be considered a "work for hire". Section 101 of the copyright law defines "work for hire" as:
if the parties agree in a signed written instrument that the work shall by considered work made for hire.
Faculty: See the Authors & Creators page for information on
Current U.S. copyright law states that copyright lasts until 70 years after the death of the author. Works made for hire have a copyright term of either 95 years from the date of publication OR 120 years from the date of publication, whichever is shorter.
When copyright expires, works pass into the public domain, meaning anyone can reproduce, distribute, or re-use the work.
1. Is the work protected by copyright?
2. Is there a specific exception in copyright law that covers my use?
3. Is there a license that covers my use?
4. Is my use covered by fair use? Here is where it can get tricky...
i. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
ii. the nature of the copyrighted work;
iii. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
iv. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work
i. Does the copyrighted material help me make my new point?
ii. Will it help my readers or viewers get my point?
iii. Have I used no more than is needed to make my point? (Is it "just right"?)
Use the Fair Use Checklist in the Resources tab of this guide to track your due diligence.
5. Do I need permission from the copyright owner for my use?
Use the Permission page to find sample permission letters and best practices for getting permission.
The above guidelines have been adapted from © 2014 Kevin Smith & Lisa Macklin CC BY-SA 4.0
This content is under a Creative Commons License that requires attribution to Texas Wesleyan University.