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Copyright Basics

This guide will provide you with information about copyright issues.

Welcome to the CLTCC Library Copyright LibGuide!

This guide will inform you on copyright law and issues pertaining to the use of copyright materials. It will not supply legal advice nor is it intended to replace the advice of a legal professional. 

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U.S. Code) to the authors of "original works of authorship," including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works.

Copyright protection exits from the moment a work is fixed in a tangible form of expression (examples: CD, DVD, a scrap sheet of paper). It is the right granted by law to an author or creator to control the use of the work created. This allows the owner of the copyrighted material to:

  • Display the work publicly
  • Perform the work publicly
  • Make copies (a copy is the reproduction of an original work)
  • Distribute copies
  • Prepare derivatives based on the original work (examples: sequel or spin-off)

What is protected?

The following are protected under the copyright act, section 102:

  • Architecture
  • Drama
  • Films
  • Graphics, pictures, and sculpture
  • Literature
  • Music and lyrics
  • Pantomime and dance
  • Software
  • Sound recordings

How long is a work protected by copyright?

Works are protected for the life of the author plus 70 years per the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act which applied to works created from 1978 onwards. The protected status of works published before 1978 and after 1923 varies in accordance with how they were published, registered, renewed.

Unpublished materials, like diaries and correspondence, created prior to 1978 are protected for the life of the author plus 70 years. When a work is no longer protected by copyright due to the expiration of the copyright, it falls into public domain. 

Copyright law and duration varies by country. However, several countries have worked together to create international agreements that align policies across borders. Foreign works are generally protected for the same term as works published within the user's country for all signatories of the Berne and TRIPS agreements. The U.S. is both an adopter of the Berne convention and a signatory of the TRIPS agreement.

What is the Public Domain?

The Public Domain is a state of belonging to the public as a whole and not being protected by copyright law. Works in the public domain are those for which copyright protection has expired, been forfeited, or were inapplicable. They can be copied, distributed, performed, and displayed without seeking permission or applying for an exception under copyright law.

Tools to help you determine if a work is in the public domain:

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