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Copyright Basics: Getting Started

This guide will help you learn more about copyright, Fair Use, and Creative Commons.

Copyright Basics

What is Copyright?

Copyright Symbol

Copyright legally protects authors and creators from misuse and unauthorized reproduction of their works. Copyright also determines how others can use a creator’s content.

  • This enables innovation in artistic and scientific fields since the rightsholder can gain financially from their works.

Watch this video created by the U.S. Copyright Office explaining what copyright is.

The Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17) covers which original works are covered in copyright and the exclusive rights the copyright owner has. Creators of copyrighted works can authorize use for:

  • Reproducing the work in part or in whole.
  • Preparing derivative works like dramatizations, adaptations, etc.
  • Distributing copies by sale, gift, rental, or loan.
  • Publicly performing the work.
  • Publicly displaying the work.

Copyright protects materials that are:

Copyright Protected

This includes materials such as:

  • Novels
  • Articles
  • Films and screenplays
  • Music recordings
  • Photographs and other art
  • Video recordings
  • Architectural designs

Copyright does not protect:

Not covered by copyright

For works published after March 1, 1989, copyright lasts 70 years after the author’s death.

  • Works created before this date have varying lengths of copyright terms.
  • Some materials are usable under the Fair Use Doctrine, even if they are copyrighted.