Basic information and resources for students, faculty, and staff.
Subjects: General Guides

U.S. Copyright Law

U.S. Copyright Law finds its mandate in Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, which lists the various powers granted to Congress.  The clause specific to copyright states:

"The Congress shall have Power...To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

The actual law is found in Title 17 of the U.S. Code and is available online.

Copyright on Campus

The video below is presented by the Copyright Clearance Center to give an overview of copyright law and to present some of the copyright issues that are of interest to the campus community.

Copyright Basics

What is copyright?

An exclusive monopoly for the creator of a work on certain rights for a limited time.

What are the differences between copyright, patents, and trademarks?

All three are forms of protectable intellectual property.  Patents are granted to inventors and must be applied for.  A patent allows an inventor a limited time to produce and sell their invention exclusively in exchange for public disclosure of the invention.  Trademarks are used by their owners to indentify certain goods and services as being their intellectual property.  Trademarks are used for a word, phrase, symbol, design, or any combination of those short identifiers.

What is protected by copyright?

According to U.S. Copyright Law, any "original work of authorship" that is "fixed in any tangible medium of expression" is protected.  This includes literary works; musical works; dramatic works; pantomimes and choreographic works; pictorial, graphical, and sculptural works; motion pictures and other audiovisual works; sound recordings; and architectural works.

What is not protected by copyright?

Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices cannot be copyrighted.  Works that are not fixed in a tangible form; titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; or works consisting entirely of information that is common property (standard calendars, height and weight charts, etc) are also not subject to copyright.

What rights are exclusive to copyright holders?

The right to do or authorize the following: reproduce the work in copies, prepare derivative works, distribute copies of the work, perform the work publicly, and display the work publicly.

Do copyright holders have any limitations on their rights?

Yes, there are 16 statutory provisions in U.S. Copyright law that limit the rights of the copyright holder including, but not limited to, fair use, the first-sale doctrine, and allowances for displays and performances in distance learning.

Why should we care about respecting copyright?

First of all, there can be serious legal and financial repercussions for violating U.S. Copyright law.  Secondly, there is an ethical dimension to the law as copyright is intended to allow authors, artists, and musicians to earn a living from their works; and to encourage the development of and access to new works.