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Copyright Basics

Resources for copyright


What is Copyright?

According to the Copyright Office, copyright is defined as a way to protect original and tangible works of authorship for both published and unpublished works. 

What does it protect?

Copyright can protect literary, dramatic, artistic, or musical works. 

What doesn't it protect?

It does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation. 

Find more about general copyright information from the U.S. Copyright Office. Information found here includes the differences between a patent, trademark, and copyrighted work, duration of protection, registration, and more. 

Fair Use

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, fair use is the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances. 

The four factors of fair use are: 

  • Purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  • Nature of the copyrighted work
  • Amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  • Effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

Please see the U.S. Office of Copyright for More Information on Fair Use. 

Public Domain

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, "A work of authorship is in the “public domain” if it is no longer under copyright protection or if it failed to meet the requirements for copyright protection. Works in the public domain may be used freely without the permission of the former copyright owner."

Under current U.S. copyright law, every January 1 until 2073, works published before 1978 enter the public domain:

  • 75 years after publication or
  • 50 years after the death of the creator

After 2073, copyright will expire 70 years after the death of the creator.

Many of these public domain works are available through Hathi Trust, Google Books, and Internet Archive.


Public Domain & Copyright Term


The TEACH Act (Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization Act) attempts to give distance instructors the same opportunities to show copyrighted works in their classroom as a face-to-face instructor would have. 
Requirements of the TEACH Act:

  • Accredited, non-profit educational institution 
  • Must be a part of the instructional lesson
  • Use must be limited to the number of students enrolled in the class

Source: Copyright Clearance Center The TEACH Act 


Once a work is created and available, it's protected by copyright. Registering for copyright is voluntary, but according to the U.S. Copyright Office, it can be beneficial if the creator wishes to bring a lawsuit for infringement. 

Patent, Trademark, and Copyright

The difference between patents, trademarks, and copyrighted materials is that copyright protects literary, dramatic, or musical works or information. Patents usually protect inventions. Trademarks protect either a word, phrase, symbol, or design or any combination of those. 

Additional Resources


U.S Copyright Office Information 

General Information 

Specific to Instruction 


Best Practices