What is Copyright?

Copyright law within the United States (Titles 17, Sections 101-111 of the United States Code) protects "original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device."

Examples of works for which copyright applies:

  1. literary works
  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 audiovisual works
  7. sound recordings and
  8. architectural works.

Copyright does not, however, extend to the following "regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work."

  1. idea
  2. procedure
  3. process
  4. system
  5. method of operation
  6. concept, principle, or
  7. discovery


Source: U.S. Copyright Act as presented in Copyright Law of the United States and Related Laws Contained in Title 17 of the United States Code.  Chapter 1, Section 102, Subject Matter and Scope of Copyright: In General. Retrieved from https://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap1.html#102

Exclusive Rights of the Copyright Owner

Under section 106 of Title 17, the copyright owner has the has exclusive rights to or authorize or control the following:

  1. Reproduce the copyrighted work
  2. Prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work
  3. Distribute copies of the copyrighted work to the public by sale, transfer of ownership, rental, lease, or lending
  4. Perform or display the copyrighted work in public (It should be noted that section 101 of Title 17 defines public as "place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered."  This means that a classroom could be considered a public place because it is beyond a social gathering of family and friends.)
  5. Perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission (This would include performing or displaying over the internet.)

Section 106A regards the creation of visual art and gives creators the right to claim authorship of a visual work.  In addition, it protects the author against the author being attributed to a work that has been modified by others, including modifications that would impact the integrity of the work or author's reputation.


Source: Sections 106-106A of the U.S. Copyright Act as presented in Copyright Law of the United States and Related Laws Contained in Title 17 of the United States Code.  Chapter 1. Retrieved from https://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap1.html

Exemptions to a Copyright Owner's Exclusive Rights

Whenever we want to use a copyrighted work in a way that the copyright owner already has the right to, we are infringing on his/her exclusive rights.  In such cases, we should should either get permission from the copyright owner to use the work or see  if there are established exemptions to the copyright owners rights that will allow us to legally use the work (or a portion of the work).  The primary exemptions we can consider are as follows.