Copyright is a federal law enacted by Congress that provides exclusive rights and protections for creators and authors of "original works". The authority of this law comes from the US Constitution, where it says that "The Congress shall have 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."
Copyright is also a limited, statutory monopoly giving exclusive rights to the creator or author. This means that the law provides authors and creators with certain rights and protections for their work. It also means these protections are in place for a specific time period. Copyright law does not last forever.
These rights are granted to authors as soon as a work is put into some tangible form or medium, which means some physical or electronic form. These rights are given for published and unpublished works. This means that copyright protects most works that we create in education. It also extends to the work that students create for classes.
One important thing to remember about copyright is that it does not protect ideas. It only protects the expression of the ideas.
The purpose of copyright is to benefit the public by advancing the progress of science and the useful arts by limiting the duration of copyright to allow the public to build upon works and to ensure progress. The founding fathers realized that in order for progress in all forms to continue, they needed to balance the needs of the author or creator to allow them to make a living off their labor and creations while considering the needs of society in general.
The copyright law provides an exclusive bundle of rights to the copyright holder. These rights include:
These rights are guaranteed to the creator or author as soon as an item is created and as long as the work is original and creative in nature. In addition, most works created after March 1, 1989, no longer need to include the copyright symbol or copyright notice on the work. This is now optional. Furthermore, the copyright holder is no longer required to register their copyright in order to be protected. This means that you should assume that all works you encounter and want to use are probably copyrighted.
Although a copyright holder does not need to include a copyright symbol, copyright notice, or register their copyright with the US Copyright Office, there are some added benefits for doing so. A copyright notice or copyright symbol alerts the world that the item is copyrighted and provides information for interested users to locate the copyright holder to request permission. Additionally, registering a copyrighted work with the US Copyright Office allows for added benefits in the event an infringement case arises. Those wishing to register their copyright can expect to fill out a form with the US Copyright Office, pay a nominal fee, and will be required to include a copy of the work upon registration.
The rights of the copyright holder do not last forever and the duration of these rights have changed several times over the years. For those works that are created today, you can expect the duration of copyright to last for the lifetime of the author or creator plus an additional 70 years.
For older works, it can be challenging to determine if a work still has a copyright or not. Generally, items created before 1923 are in the Public Domain. However, Chapter 3 of the US Copyright Law provides guidance for a variety of scenarios.
Items created by companies or organizations as "works for hire" have a longer copyright. Anonymous work and Pseudonymous works also have longer copyright durations. In general, the copyright duration for these categories of works is 95 years from when the work is first published. In the event when the publication cannot be determined or if the work was not published, then the copyright duration is 120 years from when the work was first created.
Basically, any work that is original, creative, and fixed in a tangible form is protected by copyright. There is no set rule or definition for creativity as long as it is more than a list of facts. 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.
Congress identified 8 basic categories of works that are protected by copyright in the copyright law. These basic categories are as follows:
Specific examples of items protected by copyright and often found and used in education, research, and scholarship include:
Basically, this means that just about anything you see, hear, or touch 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 names under specific headings or by unique qualities or categories would be protected by copyright.
In addition, any work created on or after January 1st, 1978, is automatically covered by copyright with or without the copyright symbol or the copyright notice. This means you should not assume that just because there is no copyright symbol or copyright notice that a work is not protected by copyright. Authors and creators also have the option to register their work with the U.S. Copyright Office, and by doing so, certain legal advantages are given to them. Learn more about Registering for Copyright.
Just as Congress provided insight into what can be copyrighted, they also were clear that not everything can be or should be available for copyright. The US Copyright Law identifies the following categories that are not protected by copyright:
Title: What is Copyright?
Created by: The U.S. Copyright Office
License: Standard YouTube
Duration: 5:38 mins.
A short video discussing the basics of copyright.
Title: Hey That's My Idea!
Created by: The U.S. Copyright Office
License: Standard YouTube
Duration: 3:09 mins.
A short video discussing what copyright protection covers and does not cover.
Title: Mickey Mouse and Copyright Law
Created by: Tech Insider
Published by: Tech Insider
License: Standard YouTube License
Length: 2:59 mins.
A short YouTube video looking at the history of copyright and how the copyright duration has changed because of Mickey Mouse.