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Copyright: General Guidelines

What is copyright?

The U.S. Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. §§ 101 - 810, is Federal legislation enacted by Congress under its Constitutional grant of authority to protect the writings of authors. 

The Copyright Act now reaches architectural design, software, the graphic arts, motion pictures, and sound recordings. As of January 1, 1978, all works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression and within the subject matter of copyright were deemed to fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Copyright Act regardless of whether the work was created before or after that date and whether published or unpublished. 

The owner of a copyright has the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, perform, display, license, and to prepare derivative works based on the copyrighted work. 

Copyright protection subsists in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. Copyright protection does not extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery. For example, if a book is written describing a new system of bookkeeping, copyright protection only extends to the author's description of the bookkeeping system; it does not protect the system itself. 

According to the Copyright Act of 1976, registration of copyright is voluntary and may take place at any time during the term of protection. 

http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/copyright

Fair Use

Fair use is a right provided by copyright law in section 108(f)4 of Title 17. It provides for use of a copyrighted work for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research without copyright infringement.  To determine whether or not a particular use qualifies as fair use, courts apply a multi-factor balancing test. 

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature (unprotected) or is for nonprofit educational purposes (protected) 
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work (where an item is not clearly creative, this factor is neutral)
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole (10% or one chapter of a work is a good guideline)
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work (take into account the availability of a licesnce for the specific use)

Case by case analysis is required, taking into account whether the amount taken -- qualitatively and quantitatively -- is reasonable in light of the pedagogical purpose of the use and the threat of market substitution.

 

Copyright Arithmetic

This link will take you to a handy guide for determining public domain dates, i.e. when an item is no longer under copyright.

http://copyright.cornell.edu/resources/publicdomain.cfm

Copyright Basics

17 U.S. Code § 102 - Subject matter of copyright: In general

(a) Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, 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. Works of authorship include the following categories:
  1. literary works;
  2. musical works, including any accompanying words;
  3. dramatic works, including any accompanying music;
  4. pantomimes and choreographic works;
  5. pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;
  6. motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
  7. sound recordings; and
  8. architectural works.
(b) In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.

For works created after January 1, 1978, copyrights last for 70 years after the death of the author.