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Copyright, Fair Use, & Image Resources

Guidance on copyright and fair use of copyrighted materials

About copyright

What is Copyright?

Copyright is legal protection provided by Title 17 of the U.S. Code that grants authors and creators exclusive rights to control several aspects of their work. Copyright protects the expression of ideas; it does not protect ideas themselves. This means that copyright protections apply only to original, tangible works. It does not matter if the work is published or unpublished, or in draft or final form. 
An author or creator does not need to register for copyright nor have a copyright notice affixed to their original work. Rather, copyright is granted immediately and automatically the moment the work is fixed in a tangible medium of expression. 

Copyright holders are granted the following exclusive rights:

  1. The right to reproduce (copy) the work into copies and phonorecords,
  2. The right to create derivative works of the original work,
  3. the right to distribute copies and phonorecords of the work to the public by sale, lease, or rental,
  4. The right to perform the work publicly (if the work is a literary, musical, dramatic, choreographic, pantomime, motion picture, or other audiovisual work), and
  5. The right to display the work publicly (if the work is a literary, musical, dramatic, choreographic, pantomime, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, motion picture, or other audiovisual work).


Core Criteria for Copyright

Certain criteria must be met in order for a work to qualify for copyright protection. The most important is that the work must exist in a tangible medium. Facts, ideas, procedures, processes, systems, concepts, principles or discoveries cannot be copyrighted, although some of these can be protected by patents. The work must also be original and owe its origin to the author or creator. Finally, the work must demonstrate a minimal level of creativity. 

Copyright protection applies to literary works, musical works, dramatic works, visual works, films, audio records, any other original expression that is fixed in a tangible medium. 


Copyright Terms & How to Obtain

Copyright protections are granted immediately and automatically upon the creation of an original, tangible work. Copyright protection lasts for the life of the author or creator plus 70 years unless or until the creator assigns these rights elsewhere via transfer, sale, or donation to the public domain. Works created before 1978 have varying lengths of copyright terms. To help determine if something is currently under copyright or in the public domain, try this helpful tool:





Copyright FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions....

Do you have to register your work with the Copyright Office in Washington, DC to be protected?

No, copyright is automatic the moment a work is created and you are not required to register. However, registration is recommended in the event that you take action for copyright infringement.

Does a work have to have the copyright symbol to be copyrighted?

No, the copyright symbol is no longer required, but it is still important to include a copyright notice.

How long does copyright protection last?

The term length is duration of the author's life plus seventy years for general copyrights and to ninety-five years for works made for hire and works copyrighted before 1978. 

What is a "work made for hire"?

In the case of works made for hire, the employer and not the employee is considered to be the author. Section 101 of the copyright law defines a “work made for hire” as:

A work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment; OR

A work specially ordered or commissioned for use as:

  • a contribution to a collective work
  • a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work
  • a translation
  • a supplementary work
  • an instructional text
  • a test
  • answer material for a test

if the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed by them that the work shall be considered a work made for hire.

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