Since copyrights are usually more visible in our daily routine than other types of IP, it is especially good for one to know their rights as copyright owners (creators) and as copyright users (consumers). Kenneth Crews, author of Copyright Law for Librarians & Educators: Creative Strategies and Practical Solutions, states that, only with this awareness, can one identify alternatives that the law allows to make decisions about copyright that best advance one's objectives. Obviously, there is even a civic responsibility for copyright users regarding the ethical and legal use of copyrighted resources.  Fair Use for personal or work applications are challenged more than ever with music and video file sharing downloads, and other digital technology applications. This website is designed to assist all of us with increasing questions in an ever-changing world of intellectual property, especially copyright.

Copyright advances the progress of knowledge for all consumers by giving an economic incentive to authors and artists to create new works. The Fair Use doctrine (Section 107) of the U.S. Copyright law strives to balance public interest rights and individual author rights. More on Fair Use is covered on this site.

Our legal history of copyright is derived from the British Statute of Anne in the early eighteenth century. U.S. copyright was introduced in the late eighteenth century in the Constitution, Article I, Section 8 granting Congress the power in “securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”  The Copyright Act of 1976 (with some variations) still applies to our copyright law today.

Copyright covers authors and their literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works, both published and unpublished. Turn the words around. It authorizes the “right to copy.” It protects the aesthetic or textual expression of ideas, but not the ideas. Copyright is affordable (compared to a patent and a trademark) and is registered with the U.S. Copyright Office at the Library of Congress. The website is www.copyright.gov.

The Copyright owner is usually the original author/creator of the copyrighted work. An author may relinquish part or all of their copyright to a publisher or to someone else. In works made-for-hire, the employer is considered the author. This is especially important to note with for-profit businesses.

Copyright offers rights to the author of the copyrighted works which are “fixed in any tangible medium of expression,” as stated in the Copyright Act of 1976. Under the Copyright Act, Section 106, a copyright owner’s exclusive rights include permitting reproduction, distribution, public performance or display, and derivative works of their copyrighted work publicly. Copyright subsists automatically as soon as the work is created. One need not publish or register the work to be copyrighted. However, registration with the Copyright Office is advantageous for any future legal actions. It is easy to let others know you are the copyright owner. Just place your name (or a company name) with the © symbol and year on the document or work, e.g. © 2013 W. Frank Steely Library at Northern Kentucky University.

The following intellectual works may be protected by copyright:

  • Literary works, including business brochures and product user manuals.
  • Musical works, including any accompanying words.
  • Dramatic works, including any accompanying music.
  • Pantomimes and choreographic works.
  • Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works.
  • Motion pictures, sound recordings, computer software & games, websites, etc.
  • Architectural works.

The Copyright Office website provides more details on protected works at www.copyright.gov.

On the other hand, the following works may not be copyrighted:

  • Works not in a fixed medium or that lack creativity.
  • Works chosen to be available with no copyright restrictions by the author.
  • Most U.S. Government Documents.
  • Facts, ideas, dates, names, and short phrases.
  • Works which have fallen into the public domain.

What is the duration of copyright?  When does a work fall into the public domain? It depends on when the work was copyrighted.  For most published U.S. works before 1923, there is usually no question that it is in the public domain.  Copyrighted works between 1923 and 1963 which were not renewed MAY have expired and fallen into the public domain. Works created between 1964 and 1977 last up to 95 years from the publication date,  while works created since 1978 are copyrighted for at least 70 years past the author’s death. See Cornell University’s Copyright Term and the Public Domain chart https://copyright.cornell.edu/publicdomain to determine if a work may be in the public domain.

There are some free-to-share type services which utilize other intellectual property labels related to copyright such as open source, Creative Commons, copyleft, and so forth, which may offer some attributes of public domain. We also will cover these other options to traditional copyright on this site.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: Information on this page and other content from the IPAC website, programs, or services is provided for informational purposes only. Any information provided should not be considered legal advice. The IPAC seeks only to facilitate related information and community connections to further IP awareness. Any information received from IPAC should not substitute for securing legal advice from a licensed attorney.