Copyright Law

You should assume that all materials you find online are copyrighted!

Copyright Law of the United States provides legal protection for intellectual property*

*Intellectual Property refers to products of the mind or products of human creativity. It is a broad expression of law that includes other bodies of law, such as copyright, trademarks, trade secrets, and patents.

If an online document specifies that it is public domain, be sure to verify the source!
Copyright law protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. It covers both published and unpublished works.
Copyright does NOT protect facts, ideas, signature art styles, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.
A work is copyrighted as soon as it is created. If a work was created after 1978, it is protected for the life of the creator + 70 years, unless the copyright is extended by the publisher or other owner. Anonymous works are protected for 95 years from the 1st publication or 120 years from the year of creation.

© 2021 All Rights Reserved

What rights are reserved?

Copyright ownership gives the holder of the copyright in an original work of authorship six exclusive rights:
The right to:
Reproduce and make copies of an original work
Prepare derivative works based on the original work
Distribute copies to the public by sale or another form of transfer, such as rental or lending
Publicly perform the work
Publicly display the work
Perform sound recordings publicly through digital audio transmission

How long is a work protected under copyright?

It depends. The general rules are as follows:
Created after 1978, the life of the creator + 70 years
If Anonymous, 95 years from 1st publication or 120 years from year of creation

Fair Use Doctrine

The Doctrine of Fair Use

Fair use generally applies to nonprofit, educational purposes that do not affect the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. When an information source is copyrighted, you should cite it if you quote or paraphrase it in your paper or speech.

Fair Use allows use of copyrighted materials without permission under certain circumstances, such as:

  • Research & Scholarship
  • Non-profit education
  • Parody & Satire
  • News reporting
  • Criticism & commentary

There are four factors of Fair Use:

  1. Purpose of the use (Is it for non-profit or commercial use?)
  2. Nature of the copyrighted material (Does it encourage creative expression?)
  3. Amount used (How much are you using?)
  4. Effect on the market of the original  (Does your  use impact the copyright owner's original work, both existing and future?

Fair use is:

  • A right (not just a privilege) according to an “equitable rule of reason.”
  • Not an infringement of copyright
  • A social bargain that offers exclusive rights in copyrighted works to encourage artists to produce culture

Is your use of a work TRANSFORMATIVE?
Transformative work does not have to be a literal transformation of the work – You can put the work in a NEW CONTEXT where it performs a NEW FUNCTION

  • Use public domain reference material whenever possible or obtain permission from the owner if copyrighted
  • Try to avoid using the reference material in its entirety – use pieces
  • Use the reference material to guide you someplace original – don't just cut and paste
  • Make sure your use of the reference is sufficiently transformative

Public Domain

Works that are in the public domain may be used freely, without obtaining permission from or compensating the copyright owner.

However, you should credit the author, if possible, even if it is in public domain. Being in a public space does not necessarily mean something is considered public domain. 

Works in the public domain are NOT protected by copyright. Being in public domain means:

  • The copyright may have expired or it never had a copyright
  • Works created before 1926 (unless renewed/extended by copyright holder), including books, films, artworks, sheet music
  • On January 1, 2023, works created before 1927 become public domain

For the first time, over 400,000 audio recordings created before 1923 entered public domain on January 1, 2022, due to the Music Modernization Act (2018)
Facts, ideas, discoveries, or other non-protectable work and works by the US government CANNOT be copyrighted.

Open Licenses

Open licenses enable creators to proactively grant certain rights in advance, while still retaining copyright

Creative Commons (CC) is an example of open licenses.
CC provides a set of copyright licenses and tools that can be adapted on varying levels set by the creator

What are Creative Commons Licenses? Video (1:57)
CC currently has 6 levels that define:

  • Attribution
  • Derivative work
  • Licensing share terms 
  • Non-commercial or commercial use

CC license use
CC = Creative Commons
BY = creator (who it is BY)
SA = Share Alike license terms
NC = Non-Commercial only
ND = No Derivatives

Open Access allows free access of published material through digital repositories. The rights vary between sources.

Fine Arts Librarian

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Bonnie Finn
Clemens Library B102
(320) 363-5513