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Copyright and Fair Use: Copyright

What is copyright?

What is copyright?

Copyright is a bundle of rights that includes the right to copy, distribute, publish, perform, and display a work, as well as to prepare derivative works. Copyright is set forth in the U.S. Constitution to "promote the progress of science and the useful arts" by giving authors control over their works for a limited time. Federal copyright laws have been enacted in 17 U.S. Code §101 et seq.

What is covered by copyright? 

Any original content you create in a tangible format! This includes not only scholarly work, but even your to-do list at home, your monthly report, your email messages, your child's art work or notes you take at meetings and presentations. Works that can be copyrighted include, but are not limited to, literary, musical, and dramatic works; pantomimes and choreographic works; pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works; sound recordings; motion pictures and other AV works; computer programs, architectural works; and compilations and derivative works.

Who is the copyright owner? 

Generally, the author or authors of a work own the copyright. The author or authors may transfer the copyright to another owner. If an employee is assigned to create a work within the scope of her employment then the employer generally owns the copyright. This is considered a work made for hire

Does material on the Web have copyright protection? 

Material on the Internet is copyrighted. Look for terms and conditions of acceptable use for images and text you find online before copying and using any content.

Are images, music, or video from a web site copyrighted? 

Since most creative expression is copyrighted as soon as it is fixed in tangible form, you should assume that most material on websites is copyrighted.

What is not covered by copyright? 

Ideas, facts, slogans, names and short phrases cannot be copyrighted. Methods of operations, systems, processes, principles, discoveries, and procedures cannot be copyrighted, although it may be possible to copyright the way these things are expressed. Inventions are not subject to copyright, though they may be covered by patents. 

How long does copyright last? 

The term for copyright protection has changed over the years. Currently, copyright lasts from the moment a work is created until 70 years after the death of the author, except for works produced by a company/employer. In those cases, the copyright lasts 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from creation. Works produced prior to 1978 have variable durations. For a more detailed explanation of possible copyright terms see Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States.

What are public domain works? 

Works in the public domain have no copyright and can be used freely. They include works in which the copyright period has expired, such as most works published in the U.S. before 1924, or works which never had copyright protection, such as many materials published by the U.S. federal government, or works elected to be placed in the public domain through a Creative Commons license.


Public domain resources:

Can you recommend some resources that provide a general overview of U.S. Copyright Law?

These resources provide a general overview of U.S. Copyright Law. The U.S. Copyright Office features an online application to register the copyright in your creative work, as well as links to U.S. Copyright Law itself. The other resources include useful educational information on a variety of copyright issues.

Useful Links

University System of Georgia






Valdosta State University



Copyright Tools




This work is subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.  It incorporates materials from The Ohio State University Copyright Services Guide, available at, which is available under the same CC-BY license.

For Questions About Copyright and More:

Jessica Lee 

Electronic Resources & Serials Librarian 



Creative Commons

Creative Commons Licenses

Largely in response to the restrictions and limitations of copyright law, numerous "open" intellectual property (IP) tools have been developed in recent years and are now one of the three main components of the Open Educational Resources (OER).


Of these IP tools, the licenses from the Creative Commons non profit organization have become the most utilized and helpful components for the OER movement.  These licenses, which are easy to use and understand for the average person, are also legally solid,  and machine readable, which also makes them a natural ally in finding OER. As a result, programmers have constructed Creative Commons(CC) filters for search tools.


Types of Creative Commons Licenses


Choosing a Creative Commons License