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Copyright and Fair Use

This guide provides resources and information about copyright and fair use.

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a form of protection, provided by law, which protects the original works of authors and creators. It protects expressive content and grants rights to authors for the protection of their work.  

The owner of copyright has the exclusive right to:  

  • Reproduce, distribute, and, in the case of certain works, publicly perform or display the work  
  • Prepare derivative works  
  • License others to engage in the same acts under specific terms and conditions  

A copyright owner's rights are extensive but not absolute--they can be 'unbundled' and transferred to someone else (such as when an author signs over distribution rights to a publisher). There are also limits on the duration of rights and some limited exceptions under the law, including fair use and classroom instruction. 

Copyright Basics

How long is a work protected by copyright?

  • Works created after January 1, 1978, are protected for the life of the author, plus 70 years after their death.

  • Works created prior to 1978, the term will vary depending on several factors - including whether they were published with a copyright notice and whether the the notice was renewed. 

  • For anonymous work, or work made for hire, the copyright endures for 95 years from the first publication – or 120 years from creation, whichever expires first. 

What types of work are protected by copyright?  

  • Literary works  
  • Musical and dramatic works   
  • ​​​​​​​Choreography and pantomimes   
  • ​​​​​​​Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works  
  • Sound recordings   
  • ​​​​​​​Motion pictures and audiovisual works   
  • Compilations of works and derivative works  
  • ​​​​​​​Architectural works 

What does copyright protection not extend to?  

  • Ideas, procedures, or processes* 
  • Titles, names, short phrases, or slogans* 
  • Facts, news, objective data   
  • Public records or works produced by the U.S. Government  
  • Works in the public domain 

(*These may be patented or trademarked)

Copyright infringement is using copyrighted material for a purpose, or of an amount, which does not fall under an exception and doing so without obtaining permission from the rights holder.

There may be legal penalties for copyright infringement. Chapter 5 of Title 17 (Copyright Law of the United States) contains more information. 

More About Copyright

This video from the U.S. Copyright Office, part of their Learning Engine Video Series, provides background on copyright law, and notes how it differs from patent and trademark law.

You may wonder about how copyright relates to plagiarism. There is a distinction between the two. It is important to understand how both can impact your use of existing works. In simple terms, plagiarism is taking the work of another and presenting it as your own. Infringing on copyright is taking another's work without permission.

While something that is plagiarized can also infringe on copyright, that is not always the case. If you were to use someone else's copyrighted work and represent it as your own, without having permission to use it, that would be both copyright infringement and plagiarism. 

For more information on plagiarism, visit the library's plagiarism guide


The information contained within this guide is for informational and instructional purposes only. It is not legal advice.

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Copyright Librarian

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Colby Cilento
Milner Library

Copyright Agent Notice

Dallas Long, Dean of Milner Library, is the designated copyright agent for Illinois State University.