Copyright Basics | Copyright and Permissions | More Information
What is copyright? | What does copyright protect? | What is not eligible for copyright protection? | How long does copyright protection last?
What is copyright?
Copyright is a set of rights that protects the works of authors, artists, composers, and others from being used by other people without permission. This intellectual property protection is articulated in the United States Constitution and ensured by Title 17 of the U.S. Code.
Copyright guarantees that the owner of a copyrighted work has the exclusive right to reproduce it, distribute it, perform it publicly, and prepare derivative works based upon it; in other words, it ensures that the creator is reimbursed for his/her work. According to the United States Constitution, however, copyright is not only for the protection of creators; it is also designed to “promote the progress of science and useful arts” (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8).
It's important to understand copyright, because copyright infringement is against the law, violates the Davidson College Compliance with Laws and Acts regarding copyright, and is unethical, very much like stealing.
Remember that copyright is not unlimited. Just because something is copyrighted doesn't mean you can't use it; you just have to follow the rules! You are not infringing on copyright if:
- You have express permission from the copyright owner;
- The work you are using is in the public domain;
- What you are doing is considered fair use;
- You have an implied license; or
- The work you are using is an idea, fact, or data.
What does copyright protect?
According to copyright law, "original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression" are eligible for copyright protection, whether or not they are published. These include:
- Literary works
- Musical works, including accompanying lyrics
- Dramatic works, including any accompanying music
- Pantomime and choreography
- Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
- Motion pictures and other audiovisual works
- Sound recordings
- Architectural works
- Web pages
- Software code
- ...among others!
What is not eligible for copyright protection?
Works that are not fixed in a "tangible medium of expression" and/or have no original authorship cannot be copyrighted. These include:
- Ideas and facts
- Titles, names, and slogans
Although these may not be eligible for copyright, they may be protected by other forms of intellectual property law, like trademarks and patents.
How long does copyright protection last?
There is no simple answer to this question. The term of a copyright depends on a number of factors, including the work's publication status and the date of first publication. Because copyright law has changed throughout the years, copyright terms vary.
For more information about copyright terms and for help in determining if a work is still protected by copyright, see:
Copyright and Permissions
How do I know if something is copyrighted?| Do I always need permission to use a copyright holder's work? | How do I get permission from a copyright holder to use his/her work?
How do I know if something is copyrighted?
Because a work does not have to be registered or even published to have copyright protection, it's best to assume that a work is copyrighted and go from there.
To get information about a work's copyright, look for a copyright notice, review the author and publication information, and/or check to see if the work is registered.
A copyright notice can indicate copyright status, but the lack of a copyright notice does not mean a work is not copyrighted. Copyright notices are not required for works first published after March 1, 1989; those published between January 1, 1978, and March 1, 1989, may or may not require notices.
Publication information can also provide clues about the work's copyright status. Use this information to see if a work's copyright term has expired. For more information, click here.
It also can be helpful to check the Copyright Office catalogs to see if the work is registered for a copyright. Just remember: copyrighted works do not need to be registered with the Copyright Office, don't assume that because something's not registered it isn't copyrighted.
If you aren't sure whether something is copyrighted, you may want to check with the copyright holder.
For more information, see:
Do I always need to get permission to use a copyright holder's work?
Not always. Because copyright is meant to “promote the progress of science and useful arts," there are exceptions to copyright protection.
If copyright protection for a work has expired or if the work is ineligible for copyright protection, the work is in the public domain. You may use works in the public domain without permission from the author. For information about the public domain and for help in determining a work's status, see the Library's Public Domain Guide.
You may also use works without express permission of the author if your use meets the standards of fair use. The Copyright Act of 1976 recognizes the needs of scholars and students to use copyrighted materials for educational purposes and makes allowances for these purposes. For information about what qualifies as fair use, please see the Library's Fair Use Guide.
How do I get permission from a copyright holder to use his/her work?
If you know the name of the copyright holder, you may contact him or her directly to ask permission to use the work. Remember that the copyright holder is not necessarily the author of the work. If you aren't sure who the copyright holder is or how to contact him or her, you may consult:
I'm a Davidson faculty member. What should I know about copyright? | Where can I get more information about copyright? | What if I have questions about copyright?
I'm a Davidson faculty member. What should I know about copyright?
Please visit our Copyright Information for Faculty page.
Where can I get more information about copyright?
There are many resources with information about copyright, including:
What if I have questions about copyright?
Library staff members cannot give legal advice. If you need legal advice, you should contact an intellectual property attorney.
For general information and guidance, please feel free to Ask a Librarian. Stop by the reference desk, call us (704-894-2425), e-mail us, or text us; we're here to help you!