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Copyright: Copyright Basics

Some basic tips and links on copyright law.


This subject guide on copyright is meant as a resource to better understand copyright law and how it affects research and communication.

It is not final or encompassing, but should illuminate the aspects of the law that touches our work the most.

Helpful Links

Defining Copyright

Stated simply, Copyright is a collection of exclusive rights granted to the creator or owner of an intellectual work for a fixed period of time, including the rights to reproduce, distribute, and display. Works protected by copyright include, but are not limited to, literary, musical, dramatic, and pictorial or graphic works, motion pictures and other audiovisual works, sound recordings, and architectural works. Copyright protects the expression of an idea and a work does not need to be published in order to gain copyright protection, but must be fixed in a "tangible medium of expression." In the United States, copyright is governed by the Copyright Act of 1976 as amended and incorporated in the U.S. Code as Title 17. 

The Law

§ 102 . Subject matter of copyright: In general

(a) Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. Works of authorship include the following categories:

(1) literary works;
(2) musical works, including any accompanying words;
(3) dramatic works, including any accompanying music;
(4) pantomimes and choreographic works;
(5) pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;
(6) motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
(7) sound recordings; and
(8) architectural works.
(b) In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.

§ 106 . Exclusive rights in copyrighted works

Subject to sections 107 through 122, the owner of copyright under this title has the exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following:

(1) to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords;
(2) to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work;
(3) to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;
(4) in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works, to perform the copyrighted work publicly;
(5) in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to display the copyrighted work publicly; and
(6) in the case of sound recordings, to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.