what it is in the U.S.
- legal protection from exploitation for the authors of creative intellectual works such as books, articles, emails, and web-based information, photographs, art, graphics, music, and software (1)
- no one can claim copyrights to data, common knowledge, works explicitly placed in the public domain, U.S. government documents, or works whose copyright has legally expired (1)
what constitutes exploitation is constantly being redefined in case law and by Congress to fit new modes of expression in the 21st century - new developments are tracked by interested groups (2)
how it works
All intellectual works are automatically copyrighted when created unless it is explicitly noted otherwise. A work need not be registered to be copyrighted. (However, for things you create, lack of registration can prevent you from suing for infringement, and lack of timely registration can prevent you from collecting attorney's fees in a lawsuit.) (1)
Copyright protection does not last forever. For any creation after 1977 copyright protection lasts for the lifetime of the author plus 70 years before the work automatically becomes a part of the public domain. When a work reverts to the public domain also used to depend on the date it was published. Here is a table to determine whether or not a work has passed into the public domain. (3)
Copyright applies to the material in online databases the Library purchases. For example, you may not copy an article from a purchased database into an email or the web, or use the materials for commercial gain without permission.
using copyrighted works
To use a copyrighted work for anything other than personal use, you must either have the copyright holder's permission, or you must qualify for a legal exemption such as fair use. Many educational uses do qualify as fair use; many common educational uses may qualify only with explicit permission. The TEACH Act has expanded and explained the materials now useable in the online classroom (4). Since the TEACH Act is a law not an exemtion as is the Fair Use exemption there are specific requirements to be satisfied if you justify use of a work based on the TEACH Act. Here is a TEACH Act checklist from the University of Texas.
If your use does not qualify for a legal exception (such as fair use) and if you do not secure permission from the copyright holder to use the work, your use is likely illegal.
A relevant example of unauthorized use of copyrighted materials is the downloading (reproduction) and sharing (distribution) of music files using a peer-to-peer or File Sharing program. Current technology allows quick and convenient access to a range of copyrighted works as well as those in the public domain. But this ease of access may result in the use of works without a full understanding of rights and user responsibilities.
effects of unauthorized use
Unauthorized use and distribution of copyrighted works can deprive authors of a fair return on their work and inhibit the creation of new works. Respect for the intellectual work and property of others is an essential tenet of higher education.
As members of the academic community, we value the free exchange of ideas. Just as we do not tolerate plagiarism, we do not condone the unauthorized use and distribution of intellectual and creative work.
Unauthorized use and distribution of copyrighted works can harm the entire academic community. The institution may find it more difficult to negotiate agreements that would make copyrighted products more widely and less expensively available to the academic community. In addition, if unauthorized use and distribution proliferate on a campus, the institution may incur a legal liability.
Portions adapted with permission from the University of Colorado System pages on Intellectual Property.
(1) Copyright Basics / U.S. Copyright Office
(2) Copyright Legislation Status / ALA ; Electronic Frontier Foundation ; Recording Industry Association of America
(3) Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States / Cornell University
(4) Copyright Crash Course / University of Texas ; Balancing Copyright Concerns: The TEACH Act of 2001 / University of North Carolina ; New Copyright Law for Distance Education / Indiana University School of Law-Indianapoli)