Any "original works of authorship" that are "fixed in any tangible medium of expression," whether published or unpublished, are protected by U.S. Copyright. Since changes to the law in 1976, copyright protection does not have to be registered for--it is simply assumed that any work is protected. This means that you hold the rights to anything you create!
If you find a copyrighted work that you would like to re-use, and that work is not in the public domain or your use would not constitute fair use, you can still seek permission from the copyright holder to use the work.
A collective licensing agency, such as the Copyright Clearance Center, can help in the process of acquiring permission. Licensing fees will vary greatly depending on the work, the copyright holder, and your intended use.
This guide is meant to be informative but is not a substitute for professional legal advice. Our intention is to inform the community to make the best decisions possible, but if you are entering into a risky situation you should consult a lawyer familiar with intellectual property law. Scarborough Library does not assume any liability for any loss or damaged caused by errors or omissions in this research guide.
The video below was created by Professor Eric Faden of Bucknell University. It illustrates how copyrighted material can be used under an assertion of fair use.
Section 106 of the Copyright Act states that the copyright holder has the exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following:
(1) to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies;
(2) to prepare derivative works based on the copyrighted work;
(3) to distribute copies of the copyrighted work to the public
(4) to perform the copyrighted work publicly in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
(5) to display the copyrighted work publicly;
(6) to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission in the case of sound recordings.
According to Section 106A, the creators of certain works of visual art also possess "moral rights" of attribution and integrity. This means that creators of visual art have the right to claim authorship of their work, and to prevent their name being used in connection with a work that they did not create.
These rights are applied automatically upon the creation of your work. The duration of time that these rights are protected is your lifetime, plus 70 years when your descendents or others specified become the copyright holders.
If you want to inform others that they may use your work in certain ways without asking permission, you may assign one of a variety of Creative Commons licenses to your work.
Copyright holders have certain limitations on their rights that are specified in U.S. Copyright Law, which allows the users of copyrighted works some leeway. The most commonly used exceptions are:
Section 107: Fair Use. Allows certain limited uses for purposes such as criticism, news reporting, or teaching.
Section 108: Permits a library to make copies of certain works for specific purposes under specific circumstances.
Section 109: The first-sale doctrine. Allows the owner of a physical copy of a work to sell, redistribute, display, or even destroy that copy.
Section 110: Allows for limited displays and performances under certain conditions in both face-to-face and distance teaching.
Section 117: Allows the owner of a computer program to modify and make a backup copy of the program.
Section 121: Permits certain organizations to create special formats of some works for persons who are blind or have other disabilities.
See the actual U.S. Code, Title 17 or the additional resources in this Research Guide for a more complete explanation of the limitations listed above.