This guide is not legal advice.
What is Copyright and what works are covered?
Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works. (Read more)
“fixed in a tangible medium of expression” – in plain English, please?
In addition to the media noted above, a handwritten note, a website, a tweet, a status update, even driftwood sculpture are all tangible media.
What is covered?
- Literary works
- Music and lyrics
- Dramatic works and music
- Pantomimes and choreographic works
- Photographs, graphics, paintings and sculptural works
- Motion pictures and other audiovisual works
- Video games and computer software
- Audio recordings
- Architectural works
What is not protected by copyright?
- Unfixed works that have not been recorded in a tangible, fixed form (e.g., a song you made up and sang in the shower)
- Work in the public domain
- Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; numbers
- Ideas and facts
- Processes and systems (e.g., the Dewey decimal system)
- Federal government works (e.g., the tax code)
The above sections are from Teachingcopyright.org. I copied it freely because it’s licensed under Creative Commons! (see below)
What are “public domain” works?
Works in the public domain are owned by the public, and not subject to copyright. Anything published before 1923 is in the public domain.
“Out of print” means a work is in the public domain, right?
Absolutely NOT. “Out of print” means a publisher decides it can’t make money from the production of a particular work. The rights remain with the “rightsholder,” which means, whoever owns the rights: that is usually the creator/author, but not always.
Using copyrighted material legally: Fair Use
There are 4 factors to determine whether copyrighted material can be used legally under Fair Use:
- The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
- The nature of the copyrighted work
- The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
- The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work
So, using a piece of a song for a class project is okay. Using that piece of that song in a commercial to promote your business, without the permission of the song’s creator, is probably not okay.
In any event, you should still cite the media that you use.
UPDATE: The American Library Association's Office for Information Technology Policy and Michael Brewer have developed the "Copyright Genie," a tool that helps you determine whether a work is subject to copyright, and generates a PDF of your copyright research efforts so you can provide documentation should someone challenge our use of a work.
What is Creative Commons licensing?
Creative Commons (CC) licenses protect copyright, but provide creators with the ability to permit certain uses of their work without their permission in order to facilitate sharing.
‘Our tools give everyone from individual creators to large companies and institutions a simple, standardized way to keep their copyright while allowing certain uses of their work — a “some rights reserved” approach to copyright — which makes their creative, educational, and scientific content instantly more compatible with the full potential of the internet.’
In the CC system, there are several licenses chosen by the creator. Whether you need media for commercial, non-profit, educational, or personal projects, you can choose media with these licenses that you can use; however, you MUST follow the terms of the respective licenses.
If you would like to use Creative Commons licenses for your own works, you can choose a license according to permissions that you determine.