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Copyright, Plagiarism and Intellectual Property: Copyright


“Copyright protection subsists…in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.”

Copyrighted works include: 

  • literary works;
  • musical works, including any accompanying words;
  • dramatic works, including any accompanying music;
  • pantomimes and choreographic works;
  • pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;
  • motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
  • sound recordings; and
  • architectural works

Copyright gives the owner the right to...

  • Reproduce the work
  • Prepare derivative works
  • Distribute copies of the work
  • Perform the work publicly
  • Display the work publicly

What cannot be copyrighted?

  • Facts, ideas, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, discoveries, and any work of the United States government.

How Copyright 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, 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.)

Copyright protection does not last forever. For any work created after 1977 copyright protection lasts for the lifetime of the author plus 70 years. After this time the work becomes a part of the public domain. Laws have changed through the years, and when a work reverts to the public domain depends on the date it was published.

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, however many common educational uses may qualify only with explicit permission.  The TEACH Act has expanded and explained the materials now usable in the online classroom. Where fair use is an exemption, the TEACH Act is a law and there are specific requirements to be satisfied to justify use of a work. 

Unauthorized Use

If your use does not qualify for a legal exception and if you do not secure permission from the copyright holder to use the work, your use is likely illegal. 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.