This is the "What is Copyright?" page of the "Copyright" guide.
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Last Updated: Jan 24, 2014 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

What is Copyright? Print Page


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Alexa Bartel
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What is Copyright?

Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States to authors of "original works of authorship." This can include literary, dramatic, musical, artistic and some intellectual works. The 1976 Copyright Act gives the owner of copyright the exclusive rights to:

• Reproduce the work

• Prepare derivative works based upon the work

• Distribute copies of the work for sale, rental, lease or lending

• Publicly display or perform the work

Copyright can be tranfered by writing. Traditional publishers often require the author to transfer copyrights to the publishing company, while open access publishers generally do not. Once an author signs away full copyright, there may be difficulties in reusing their own work.


    Copyright Basics

    • Protection is granted automatically once a work is fixed in a format
    • Only a very little amount of creative originality is necessary to warrant protection
    • Registration, while beneficial in some cases, is not necessary
    • Most colleges and universities do not claim that scholarly publications are “works made for hire”, allowing copyright to vest with the author(s), not the institution
    • Joint authors hold equal and full copyright in the work.

    From ACRL 10 Things you should know about scholarly communication


      What is not protected by Copyright?

      • Works that are not fixed in a tangible form (for example, an improvised performance that is not recorded)
      • Names, titles, short phrases, slogans, mere listings of ingredients or contents, familiar symbols or designs, mere variations of typography, coloring or lettering
      • Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration
      • Works consisting entirely of information that is common property and containing no original authorship (for example: standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures and rulers, and lists or tables taken from public documents or other common sources)
      • Works produced by the U.S. Government

      From "Copyright Basics"(pdf), U.S. Copyright Office Circular 1


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