This guide does not supply legal advice nor is it intended to replace the advice of legal counsel.

Please keep in mind - Ignorance of the law is not a defense!

You are responsible for understanding and working within the boundaries of copyright laws.

Copyright Resources Guide

What is Copyright?

Protects "original works of authorship, including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works fixed in any tangible means of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced or otherwise communicated directly or with the aid of a machine or device."

Excerpt from U.S. Copyright Act, U.S. Code, Title 17, Chapter 1, Sect. 102

Types of Works Protected Under Copyright

A work is protected under copyright from the moment it becomes fixed in a tangible medium. However, it is important to know that not everything is copyrightable. The law has defined 8 categories that works can fall under in order to be eligible for copyright protection:

  1. Literary works
    • including almost all text-based media, such as computer code and programs
  2. Musical  works
    • including any accompanying words
  3. Dramatic works
    • including any accompanying music
  4. Pantomimes and choreographic works
  5. Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  6. Motion pictures and other audio visual works
  7. Sound recordings
  8. Architectural works

The owner of a copyrighted work is granted the exclusive permission to:

  1. Reproduce or make copies
  2. Create or prepare derivatives
  3. Distribute copies
    • including selling, renting, lending, giving it away
  4. Perform or display the work publicly
    • including digital transmissions

*LibGuide box informaton retrieved from "Copyright for Educators," Humboldt State University, 2014. 

What's Not Covered by Copyright?

Although the categories eligible for copyright protection are intentionally vague in order to afford a level of flexibility for future mediums, there are a few instances were copyright laws do not apply:

  • Not fixed in a tangible medium (e.g. improvised speech that is not recorded)
  • Titles, names, short phrases, or slogans (usually protected under other laws)
  • Discoveries, ideas, concepts, or principles
  • Methods, procedures, processes, or systems
  • Works containing no original creative expression (e.g. facts, news, calendars, lists, etc.)
  • Works in the public domain

*LibGuide box Information retrieved from "Copyright for Educators," Humboldt State University, 2014.