Title 17 of the United States Code is the foundation for our copyright law and, with few exceptions (e.g., DMCA, TEACH Act) remains largely unchanged since it was passed in 1976.
Copyright is a form of legal protection that allows authors, photographers, composers, and other creators to control some reproduction and distribution of their work.
There are several different rights that come along with copyright. In general, copyright holders have the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to do the following:
- Reproduce the work in whole or in part
- Prepare derivative works, such as translations, dramatizations, and musical arrangements
- Distribute copies of the work by sale, gift, rental, or loan
- Publicly perform the work
- Publicly display the work
These rights have exceptions and limitations, including the "fair use" provisions which allow certain uses without permission of the copyright holder.
What is protected by copyright?
Copyright protects literature, music, painting, photography, dance, and other forms of creative expression. In order to be protected by copyright, a work must be:
- Original: A work must be created independently and not copied.
- Creative: There must be some minimal degree of creativity involved in making the work.
- A work of authorship: This includes literary, musical, dramatic, choreographic, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, audiovisual, and architectural works.
- Fixed: The work must be "fixed in a tangible medium of expression" — written on a piece of paper, saved on a computer hard drive, or recorded on an audio or video tape.
What is not protected by copyright?
There are many things that are not protected by copyright, including:
- Facts and ideas
- Processes, methods, systems, and procedures
- All works prepared by the United States Government
- Constitutions and laws of State governments.
- Materials that have passed into the public domain
U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17)
Glossary of Copyright Terms and Concepts
Basic Copyright Questions
Content adapted from “Copyright Basics,” University of Michigan Library. Used under a Creative Commons license.