Copyright & Fair Use Basics

Understanding copyright and fair use is not something limited to lawyers and academics. Instead, these concepts, ideas, and legislation impact your intellectual property.

This lesson provides an introduction of the United States Copyright Act and Fair Use for a better understanding of how it applies to you in an academic environment and in your personal lives as we increasingly become digital citizens.

Learning Goals:

As part of this module, you will understand the foundation of the United States Copyright Act along with the Fair Use as it applies to you as a student and digital citizen.

What is Copyright?

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

This provides protection for both published and unpublished works by giving exclusive rights to the creator to:

  • reproduce
  • distribute
  • prepare derivatives
  • publicly display or perform works
  • distribute performance recordings online

Copyright exists to foster creativity and scholarship. The Constitution gives Congress the power "To promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

United States Constitution, Article I, Section 8.

What is protected by copyright?

The work must be original and in a "tangible medium of expression" and include:

  • Literature
  • Musical works
  • Dramatic works
  • Choreographed works
  • Images
  • Audio visual and film
  • Sound recordings
  • Architectural works
  • Computer software

What is not protected by copyright

  • Ideas or other works that are not fixed
  • Facts
  • Titles, names, slogans
  • Lists of ingredients or contents
  • Government publications
  • Works for which the copyright has expired
  • Works in the public domain