Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
Image Map

Copyright Resources for Students: Copyright Basics

For Starters....

What is copyright? Copyright is a federal law that provides protection to creative and intellectual works. The copyright holder (usually the author or creator) has certain exclusive rights to their works – you cannot copy or distribute copyrighted materials without permission – with limited exceptions. Fair Use is one of these exceptions that students and faculty often rely on.

What is copyrighted? Copyright protects any “original works of authorship” that are “fixed in any tangible medium of expression.” All of these are copyrighted:

  • Letters, emails
  • Prepared speeches
  • Digital or print photographs
  • Web sites
  • Music, audio recordings, films
  • Plays, dances, artwork
  • Books 
  • Software

What cannot be copyrighted?

  • Things that are not “fixed”: Impromptu speeches; singing in the shower.
  • Factual information: Weights & measures, lists, addresses, dates…
  • Ideas and concepts, slogans: This is what patents & trademarks are for.

Deeper Questions

How long does copyright last? A long time – generally speaking, copyright lasts 70 years after the life of the author. If a work is created by a corporation or employer, copyright lasts 95 years past the publication date. See this site for more information.

What kinds of things are no longer covered by copyright? Works published a long time ago – before 1923 – are no longer covered by copyright. These are thus said to be in the “public domain.” There are other ways to release a copyright, intentionally to share works with others, such as Creative Commons.

Copyright vs. Plagiarism: Copyright is different from plagiarism – “plagiarism” is an appropriation of someone else’s work without giving proper credit. You can plagiarize without infringing a copyright.

How do I get copyright? Copyright protection exists as soon as something is “fixed” – written down or recorded. You do not have to register your work to receive and retain copyright protection, but if you plan to publish, post, or otherwise distribute your work, it may be a good idea to do so since registration offers some legal benefits.

Fair Use Guidelines by Format

Fair use allows for the limited use of copyrighted works without getting permission when the work is used for education and research purposes. No one can make a fair use determination for you (except by testing your use through a lawsuit). The tool below can help you decide if what you want to do should fall under fair use.