What is copyright?
Copyright is a form of legal protection that provides authors of original creative works with limited control over the reproduction and distribution of their work. It gives copyright holders a set of exclusive rights to
These rights are subject to exceptions and limitations, such as "fair use," which allow limited uses of works without the permission of the copyright holder. A person could be held liable for copyright infringement if they use copyrighted materials when exceptions do no apply and without the permission of the copyright holder.
Copyright protects "original works of authorship." To be protected by copyright, a work must be original and recorded. It cannot be copied or expressed without being recorded.
Types of works protected by copyright include:
What is not protected by copyright?
In most cases, the author or creator of the work is the copyright holder unless they have transferred the rights to someone else through a written agreement, such as a publishing agreement.
Under current U.S. law, copyright lasts until 70 years after the death of the author. For works made for hire, the copyright term is either 95 years from the date of publication, or 120 years from the date of creation, whichever is shorter.
After the copyright term expires, works pass into the public domain, meaning that anyone is free to reproduce, distribute, or otherwise re-use the work.
Content from NYU Libraries Copyright Research Guide.
One of the most frustrating things for most people is that the answer to any copyright question is "It depends." This framework was designed to help deal with the uncertainty of copyright. By working through these questions for any copyright problem, in the order they are presented, you should be able to identify which parts of copyright law apply to your situation.
Is the work protected by copyright?
Is the work I want to use protected by copyright, or is it in the public domain?
If I wrote it, do I still own copyright, or did I sign over rights for my intended use to the publisher?
Is there a specific exception in copyright law that covers my use?
Is my intended use covered by a specific exception to the exclusive rights in the copyright law, such as the one for libraries or for classroom performances and displays?
Is there a license that covers my use?
Is there a Creative Commons license attached to the work? If so, can I comply with the terms of the license, or can I find another useful work that is CC-licensed?
If affiliated with an educational institution, is there a license that governs how the copyrighted material I’m accessing through my library can be used? If so, can I comply with the license terms? For UM faculty, staff or students, you can contact Ask-a-Librarian if you have questions about using library materials.
Is my use covered by fair use? (See the Fair Use tab)
Four factors are:
the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
the nature of the copyrighted work;
the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
Questions for transformative fair use under factor one are:
Does the copyrighted material help me make my new point?
Will it help my readers or viewers get my point?
Have I used no more than is needed to make my point? (Is it “just right”?)
Do I need permission from the copyright owner for my use?
If so, first locate the copyright owner and fully explain your intended use in your permission request.
If there is no response or the answer is no, reconsider your use of this work to see if you can make a fair use, or consider using another work.
This adaptation is also released under a CC-BY-SA Creative Commons License.