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What is Copyright?

Copyright provides the creators of original works of authorship with a set of exclusive rights to copy, distribute, and perform their works for a limited period of time. Protected works include (but are not limited to) books, plays, music, movies, photographs, paintings, sculptures, digital files, and web pages. The U.S. copyright law attempts to balance the private interests of copyright owners with the public interest in the spread of information and is intended, in the words of the Constitution:

" promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for a limited Time to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

Though having undergone major revisions, notably in 1909 and 1976, the U.S. copyright law endures today and continues to apply to works fixed in any tangible medium of expression. Many of the law's provisions are limited in certain circumstances and the educational milieu is one of the most confusing areas where copyright can be applied.

How Do I Copyright My Work?

What does Copyright Entail? Fair Use!

The owner/author of a copyright-protected work has the exclusive right to reproduce the work, sell copies of the work, perform and/or display the work publicly, and prepare derivative works based on the work. If you are NOT the copyright owner to the material that you want to use, then permission must be sought for the item -- or your use must fall within the parameters of Fair Use. The Fair Use doctrine allows the reproduction of an excerpt of a work for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair Use is not an infringement of copyright and does not require permission from the copyright holder.



Favors Fair Use

Does not favor Fair Use

PURPOSE of use



NATURE of item



AMOUNT to be used


Large; “heart” of work

EFFECT on item

Maintains market value

Lowers market value

Although the parameters of Fair Use are negotiable, favoring Fair Use as much as possible keeps your work within a legally defensible position.


Guidelines for Fair Use and the web
To put copyright protected material on the web, specifically for a course web site or educational page, and still claim Fair Use, it is recommended that:

  • The web page is password protected.
  • Access to the web page is limited to students enrolled in the course
  • The use is only for a limited time, usually one semester
  • Item credit line/source info is listed


Items NOT under Fair Use

The following types of material do not fall under the Fair Use doctrine, no matter what the intended use.

 Software –You do not own software, you have only purchased a license to use it; You may make one copy of software for archival purposes

Consumables (i.e. Student workbooks, manuals) –Meant to be purchased by each student for individual use; Market value is lowered when only one copy is bought and photocopied.

Copyright Terms/Public Domain

In general, published works created on or after January 1, 1978, are protected for the lifetime of the author plus 70 years. In the case of joint authorship, copyright protection continues for 70 years after the death of the last surviving author.

Works published in the U.S. before 1923 are no longer protected by copyright. Unpublished works, works published in the U.S. between January 1, 1923, and January 1, 1978, present a variety of conditions and circumstances that must be considered in calculating the copyright term. Peter B. Hirtle at Cornell University has created a useful and comprehensive table detailing copyright duration and the public domain.