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Copyright: Copyright FAQs

Copyright guidelines for faculty, staff, and students at CSS.

Copyright Questions?

The College of St. Scholastica Library provides assistance and guidance with copyright questions for CSS faculty, staff, and students. Please email Julie Rustad with your questions or visit our website for more information.

Legal Advice Disclaimer

The information presented in this guide is intended for informational and educational purposes only. It is not offered as legal advice or counsel. Faculty, staff, students, and others associated with the college should consult an attorney for advice concerning their individual copyright situations and needs. 

Copyright Frequently Asked Questions

What is copyright?

Copyright is a federal law that provides exclusive rights and protections for original works of authorship. Copyright is also a limited, statutory monopoly giving exclusive rights to the creator or author. This means that the law provides authors and creators certain rights for their creations for a certain amount of time - not forever. 

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What is protected by copyright?

Any work that is created in original works of authorship and is "fixed in a tangible medium of expression" is protected by copyright.

This includes anything original or creative in nature, written or typed, stored in a computer, recorded in an audio or video format, created in digital format, or created in other types of mediums.

Specific examples of works protected by copyright include:

  • Journal, magazine, and newspaper articles;
  • Books;                 Architectural drawing
  • Lecture notes
  • Images;  
  • Web pages;                   
  • Movies;
  • Video games;
  • Plays;
  • Paintings;
  • Sheet music;
  • Sculptures;
  • Photographs and other images,
  • Architectural designs;
  • Recorded music performances;
  • Recorded sports performances;
  • And much more .....

Basically, this means that just about anything you see, hear, or touch that has artistic or creative value may be protected by copyright. However, it is important to remember that the creation must be "fixed in a tangible medium of expression," which means that the item must exist in some type of physical form even if it is only for a brief time. In addition, the work must be original in nature and created by the author. It doesn't matter how similar it is to another work or how well it is created. As long as the work is not copying another work or is an exact replica, it is protected by copyright. Finally, the work must be creative in nature. There is no set rule about creativity as long as it more than a listing of facts. For example, an alphabetical list of names would not be protected by copyright; however, grouping these name under specific headings or by unique qualities would be protected by copyright. 

Resources to learn more:  


(Adapted from Stanford University, Copyright FAQs: under a CC BY-NC 3.0 license)

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Is there anything that is not protected by copyright?

Woman in front of laptop with head in her hands with images of ideas floating around her head


Yes, there are items that are not protected by copyright. The US Copyright Law identifies the following categories that are not protected by copyright:

  • Works that have not been fixed in a tangible form (i.e., improvisational speeches or performances that have not been recorded or notated, improvisational choreographic works that have not been notated or recorded, discussions or interviews that have not been recorded, etc.);
  • Facts;
  • Ideas;
  • Systems (may be protected by other laws, like patent law);
  • Methods of Operations (may be protected by other laws, like patent law);
  • Procedures (may be protected by other laws, like patent law);
  • Processes (may be protected by other laws, like patent or trademark);
  • Concepts;
  • Discoveries;
  • Principles;
  • Names;
  • Domain names;
  • Titles;
  • Lettering;
  • Slogans (may be protected by other laws, like trademark);
  • Short phrases (may be protected by other laws, like trademark);
  • Logos (may be protected by other laws, like trademark);
  • Sightings (i.e., Elvis, Big Foot - however, photos or other depictions of the sighting would be copyrightable. Also, may be protected by other laws, like privacy). 
  • Useful items - ex. furniture, clothing, etc. (may be protected by other laws like patent or trademark. In addition, in the case of a chair, the actual chair itself may not be copyrighted but the fabric covering the chair may be protected by copyright. Or if the chair had a carving on it, the carving could be protected by copyright. Additionally, a shirt may not be copyrighted but the design on a shirt may be protected by copyright.)

Resources to learn more:


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Where did copyright law originate?

Statute of AnneCopyright originated in England. This was the world's first copyright law, called the Statute of Anne, and was enacted in 1710. The law was created in response to the printing press, and the purpose of it was to prevent a monopoly of printed works by booksellers. The statute outlined authors' ownership rights with a fixed term of protection, which was originally set for 14 years with the ability to renew for an additional 14 years if the author was still alive (Association of Research Libraries).

For the US, copyright originated with the US Constitution. The founders of the US Constitution recognized the importance of copyright. They included provisions in the Constitution in Article I, Section 8, Clause 8. This section of the Constitution states that "Congress shall have the power . . . To promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries" (US Constitution, Article I, Section 8). 

The First Congress implemented the copyright provisions outlined in the US Constitution with the creation of the first US Copyright Law in 1790. The law was called the Copyright Law of 1790 and was modeled after England's Statute of Anne. Just like the Statute of Anne, the original US Copyright law duration set a monopoly for authors and creators for 14 years with the ability to renew the copyright for an additional 14 year. Once the copyright expired, items went into the public domain to allow for the stimulation of creativity and the advancement of  "science and the useful arts" (Association of Research Libraries)

          (Image License: PD-1923)


Resources to learn more:


(Adapted from Association of Research Libraries, Copyright Timeline: A History of Copyright in the United States:

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Who is responsible for copyright law?

Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building

Different areas of the federal government are generally responsible for copyright law. 

  • The Copyright Office of the Library of Congress is responsible for overseeing the administrative functions of the US copyright law. 
  • Congress is in charge of enacting and updating copyright law.
  • The federal courts interpret and enforce copyright law. 





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