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Copyright Issues

Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution states, "The Congress shall have power... to promote the progress of science and useful arts by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discovers.

The purpose of this protection is to balance between protection of intellectual property and the rights of those seeking to access information.  Copyrights can apply to all concrete forms (written, recorded, digital) of expression.  This protection applies whether the work is registered or not.  By law, all works created since January 1, 1978 are copyrighted unless otherwise noted.

Copyrights protect how ideas are presented, not the actual idea.  Disney, for example, owns copyrights on all Mickey Mouse cartoons and other uses.  They do not own rights on all talking, cute mice.  Facts cannot be copyrighted, but the way they are presented or explained can be.

What can be copyrighted?

bulletLiterary works
bulletMusical works
bulletDramatic works
bulletPantomimes and choreographic works
bulletPictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
bulletMotion pictures and other audiovisual works
bulletSound recordings
bulletArchitectural work
bulletWork not in fixed, tangible form of expression
bulletTitles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; simple listings of ingredients or contents
bulletIdeas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices
bulletWorks consisting entirely of information that is common property and containing no original authorship

The word "copyright" means the right to copyBy law, the owner of a copyright has 6 rights:


Reproduction.  This refers to making copies.  When a file is downloaded from the Web, it is being copied.  Printing also is a form a copy.


Adaptation.  Modifications, alterations, or use of anotherís ideas is also protected.  Changing format, posting from a book to a Web, and copying someone elseís HTML all fall under adaptation.


Distribution.  Owners of copyright control how their work is distributed to the public.  Electronic transmissions or simply posting work on the Web is considered distribution.


Public Performance.  The right to perform a work in public is covered by copyrights.  Digital broadcasts, other transmissions, and live renditions are public performances.


Public Display.  Owners of copyrights also control how their work is shown to the public.  Anything transmitted digitally is considered a public display.


Digital Audio Transmissions of Sound Recordings.  Copyright owners have the right to control how their audio recordings are distributed.  Sending or downloading an audio file over the Internet is a digital transmission.

By law, people need permission from the copyright holder to reproduce, adapt, distribute, publicly perform, publicly display, or digitally transmit audio sound recordings unless the intended use falls under a special category called fair use.

Owners of copyrights may sell or license any of these 6 rights permanently or by terms that are agreed upon.  Rights are often sold to publishers.  A copyright owner may allow their work to fall into the public domain, which means that no restrictions apply.  

Copyrights now last for the life of the author plus 70 years.  The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (1998) adds prohibitions on circumvention of protection technology.  It also limits the liability of online service providers, and addresses digital preservation and distant education

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More Resource Pages

Reference and Bibliography

Copyright Issues

Copyright Notices
Fair Use
Fair Use Guidelines
Obtaining Permission
Distant Education
Issues on the Web


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This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is being made available in an efforts to advance understanding of educational, environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml.  If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.