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Copyright & Fair Use: Introduction to Copyright

Copyright Basics

Copyright gives exclusive usage rights to the creator(s) of a published work, film, sound, artwork, performance, etc. Copyright laws should be considered anytime you duplicate or share someone else's work. Sometimes sharing or duplicating is considered to be "fair use," and is therefore exempt from copyright laws. Below is more information and some frequently asked questions about these laws and exemptions.

   (Video by Common Sense Education)

Resources on Copyright

Can I Use It? Infographic

(Infographic created by University of Minnesota Libraries)

Frequently Asked Questions About Copyright

What does copyright protect?
Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.

How is a copyright different from a patent or a trademark?
Copyright protects original works of authorship, while a patent protects inventions or discoveries. Ideas and discoveries are not protected by the copyright law, although the way in which they are expressed may be. A trademark protects words, phrases, symbols, or designs identifying the source of the goods or services of one party and distinguishing them from those of others.

How long does a copyright last?
The term of copyright for a particular work depends on several factors, including whether it has been published and, if so, the date of first publication. As a general rule, for works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years.  The term for works first published before 1978 will vary depending on several factors. Currently, all pre-1926 U.S. works are in the public domain because copyright protection has expired for those works.  To determine the length of copyright protection for a particular work, consult Chapter 3 of the Copyright Act (Title 17 of the United States Code).

When and how can I use works under copyright?
It is important to know that we are all copyright users. When we read books, watch movies, listen to music, or use videogames or software, we are using copyright-protected works.  In addition to buying or licensing works (or some other way of seeking permission to use the work), you can also use one of the Copyright Act’s exceptions and limitations, or rely on works in the public domain.

The Copyright Act’s exceptions and limitations found in sections 107-122 include fair use, the “first sale doctrine,” some reproductions by libraries and archives, certain performances and displays, broadcast programming transmissions by cable and satellite, to name a few. You can also use works that are in the public domain. Works in the public domain are those that are never protected by copyright (like facts or discoveries) or works whose term of protection has ended either because it expired or the owner did not satisfy a previously required formality.

What are the repercussions for violating copyright laws?
Penalties for infringement can include civil or criminal penalties. Criminal penalties include imprisonment of up to five years and fines of up to $250,000 per offense, while anyone found liable for civil copyright infringement may be ordered to pay either actual damages or "statutory" damages affixed at not less than $750 and not more than $30,000 per work infringed.  For "willful" infringement, a court may award up to $150,000 per work infringed.  A court can, at its discretion, also assess costs and attorney's fees.  More information can be found in Chapter 5 of the Copyright Act (Title 17 of the United States Code).

How does "open access" relate to copyright?
Open access resources are licensed under the creative commons, and can therefore be shared and used more freely than standard copyrighted works. The ways these resources can be used and shared depends on the type of license assigned. Open access resources are typically free and can be a great substitute for expensive traditional textbooks. See our open access guide for more information:

This page is intended to share general guidelines and best practices related to copyright.  The staff of Lipscomb Library cannot provide legal advice and are not responsible for the content of third party sites, which are provided in this guide for your convenience.  If you need legal advice, you should contact an intellectual property attorney.