What is Copyright?
Copyright is a form of legal protection for authors of original works, including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and other intellectual products. Publication is not essential for copyright protection, nor is the well known symbol of the "encircled c" (©). Copyright provides these creators with a set of limited exclusive rights. The law balances the private interests of copyright owners with the public interest and is intended, in the words of the Constitution, "to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for a limited time to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries."
U.S. copyright law grants copyright owners the exclusive rights to:
The copyright owner may transfer or license one or more of these rights to others for a specific period of time or in perpetuity. In the case of works created by employees during the course of and within the scope of their employment, the employer is considered to be the author. U.S. copyright law defines such work as works for hire.
Exceptions and limitations to these exclusive rights are listed in Sections 107 through 122 of the first chapter of the U.S. Copyright Act. These exceptions are integral to the balance of exclusive rights on the one hand and productive, socially-beneficial new uses of works on the other.
Duration of Copyright
A copyright may remain in effect for a long time. Determining the precise term can be complicated and, in the United States, depends on when the work was first created and published.
Exceptions & Limitations
Section 106 in Chapter 1 of the U.S. Copyright Act lists the five exclusive rights copyright owners have regarding their work. However, the next sixteen sections in the law set forth numerous exceptions and limitations to those rights. Five of these exceptions are particularly relevant within an educational setting:
If the contemplated use of a copyrighted work does not qualify under the classroom teaching or distance education exceptions, then the more general fair use test is generally applied because that test is much broader and more flexible than all the others.
The individual who is using the work must decide which (if any) exemption is applicable. This should be a conscious decision, rather than a decision by default or assumption. It is the responsibility of all members of the University of Idaho community to understand the exemptions and to make a good faith determination that the use of a copyrighted work is indeed permissible. If none of the exemptions is applicable, then permission should be requested for the use of the work.
The public domain is generally defined as consisting of works that are either ineligible for copyright protection or works whose term of copyright has expired. No permission is needed to copy or use these works. Public domain works and information represent some of the most critical information that faculty members and students rely upon and they can be quoted extensively. They can also be copied and distributed to classes or digitized and placed on course web pages without permission or paying royalties.
Public Domain Determination Tables
Copyright Registration Records
Documents authored by the U.S. government are not copyrightable. Section 105 of the copyright law states that "copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government, but the United States Government is not precluded from receiving and holding copyrights transferred to it by assignment, bequest, or otherwise."
This means that most federal government documents are in the public domain and may be freely quoted, reused, downloaded, and copied. However, other documents, including most foreign government documents, documents produced by states, and most intergovernmental agencies (i.e. the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund), or works created under contract with the U.S government, are not in the public domain.
Content in this page was used or adapted with permission from one or more institutions. Please see acknowledgements.