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Copyright: Copyright Information

Information about U.S. Copyright Law with links to authoritative resources

What is Copyright?

Copyright is the protection provided by United States law to creators of "original works of authorship".  Works that can be protected by copyright law  include literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and other intellectual works.  Examples might include articles in scholarly journals or magazines, movies and popular music.  In simple terms, this means that someone who wants to use or perform a work that is copyright protected must obtain permission from its owner before it can be copied, downloaded, distributed, or performed.

For example, a theater group wishing to stage a play that has been issued a copyright must obtain permission before performing the work for an audience; a movie theater must have permission before showing a motion picture to the public; and students who choose to quote published and copywritten work must give credit to the creator.  Copies of written work can be made for personal use but cannot be copied and distributed to groups without permission of the author or owner of the copywritten material.

Copyrights are issued by the United States Copyright Office and give the owner of the copyright the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to:

  •    reproduce the work;
  •    distribute copies or phonorecords of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership including rental, lease, or lending;
  •    to perform the work publicly, in the case of literary musical dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  •    display the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic , or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audio-visual work; and
  •    in the case of sound recordings, to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.

--Information obtained from the U.S. Copyright Office - Library of Congress -

Copyright and the Digital Divide

Copyright issues are among the most contentious and contested issues in the legal world.  While Copyright Law was designed to protect the interests of authors and creators of original work, the World Wide Web allows almost universal accessibility to a vast amount of previously hidden information.  In today's digital environment, the difference between what is available and what is legal affects how scholars, educators and libraries are able to access and utilize the vast array of information that is available from a 24/7, global information network.

How does Copyright Infringement occur?

You are guilty of copy right infringement when you use or distribute information without permission from the owner of the rights to the information.  This includes illegally downloading music, pirating software, or copying an image or cartoon from the internet to your computer. While it seems harmless--and everyone else seems to be doing it--you could find yourself in serious legal trouble.

Tips to help you avoid Copyright Infringement 

Look for the ©.  The copyright symbol is designated by an encircled "C".  This symbol is used to designate works other than sound recordings that have copyright status.  Sound recordings use an encircled "P" for their symbol.

Look for the copyright notice.  In the United States, the notice will consist of the copyright symbol, usually followed by the year of first publication and some form of identification of the owner.  Copyright holders were once required to post this notice in order to receive copyright protection.  However, this is no longer strictly the case and a work may hold a copyright even when there is no notice.  Err on the side of caution. 

On the internet, look for a "terms of use" page.  This page will provide information about what permissions you must have to use, download, distribute, or copy.  Very often you can find this information at the bottom of the page where the information you want is located.

Don't assume that it is always safe to "link" to other web-sites.  Very often the terms of use page will advise whether linking to a site is permissible.  If you are uncertain, you should always obtain permission from the owner of the Web-site in writing before providing links.  Be sure to keep a paper trail of your permissions.  Addresses and contact information for obtaining permissions are usually found on the "terms of use" page.

Links to Important Information about Copyright

Warning of Copyright Restrictions

The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the reproduction, distribution, adaptation, public performance, and public display of copyrighted material.

Under certain conditions of the law, nonprofit libraries are authorized to lend, lease, or rent copies of printed materials, audio or video recordings, or computer programs, to patrons on a nonprofit basis and for nonprofit purposes.

Any person who makes an unauthorized copy or adaptation of the audio or video recording or computer program, or redistributes the loan copy, or publicly performs or displays the computer program, except as permitted by Title 17 of the United Sates Code, may be liable for copyright infringement.

This institution reserves the right to refuse to fulfill a loan request if, in its judgment, fulfillment of the request would lead to violation of the copyright law.