Copyright law, as defined in Title 17 of the United States Code, protects "original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression" for a limited period. Copyright protection includes, for instance, the legal right to publish and sell literary, artistic, or musical work, and copyright protects authors, publishers and producers, and the public. Copyright applies both to traditional media (books, records, etc.) and to digital media (electronic journals, web sites, etc.).
Copyright is a bundle of rights that includes the exclusive rights to:
Use of a copyrighted work by others during the term of the copyright requires either permission from the author or reliance on one of the copyright exceptions. Failure to do one or the other can expose the user to a claim of copyright infringement for which the law provides remedies including payment of damages to the copyright owner.
Copyright protects the following eight categories of works.
There are certain types of works that do not qualify for copyright protection. These include, but are not limited to, facts, ideas, systems, methods of operation, names, short phrases, and works created by the United States federal government. Although works such as these do not qualify for protection under copyright, they may qualify for protection under other intellectual property laws such as patent or trademark. Circular 33, linked below, gives a nice overview of the works that are not eligible for copyright protection.
The current copyright term for a work created in the United States is life of the author (or creator) plus 70 years. Because copyright terms have changed several times over the years, it can be difficult to know whether a work you want to use is still protected by copyright. It is best to proceed as though it is unless you have clear evidence that it is now in the public domain.
Below are some resources that can help you determine the copyright status of a work. If you have any questions or need help evaluating the copyright status of a work, contact Scottie Kapel, firstname.lastname@example.org.