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GEN: Copyright and Fair Use

Copyright Law

The Congress shall have Power To… promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries

— United States Constitution, Article 1, Section 8

What is Copyright?

What is copyright?

Copyright is a form of legal protection automatically provided to the authors of “original works of authorship.”

U.S. copyright law generally gives the author/creator or owner of an original creative work an exclusive right to:

  1. Reproduce (copy) or distribute the original work to the public (e.g., create and sell copies of a film)
  2. Create new works based upon the original work (e.g., make a movie based on a book)
  3. Perform or display the work publicly (e.g., perform a play)

Violation of one of these rights is called copyright infringement. However, the use may be authorized by copyright limitations (such as fair use).


Copyright Protections

What types of works are protected by copyright?

  • Literary works
  • Music and lyrics
  • Dramatic works and music
  • Pantomimes and choreographic works
  • Photographs, graphics, paintings and sculptural works
  • Motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • Video games and computer software
  • Audio recordings
  • Architectural works


For more information, check out the FAQ at the Electronic Frontier Foundation

Copyright Protections

What is not protected by copyright?

  • Unfixed works that have not been recorded in a tangible form (e.g., a song you made up and sang in the shower)
  • Work in the public domain
  • Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; numbers
  • Ideas and facts
  • Processes and systems (e.g., the Dewey decimal system)
  • Federal government works

For more information, check out the FAQ at the Electronic Frontier Foundation