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Copyright questions answered along with tips for compliance and resources for future research

What is Copyright?

The U.S. Copyright laws initially were created 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 I, Section 8).

Once a work becomes tangible (that it, it is saved as a document, artwork, sculpture, film, sound byte, etc.), it is copyrighted.  Formal copyright registration enhances the legality of creative work's ownership.  Ideas are not copyrighted until they are written down.  Facts and slogans cannot be copyrighted.

According to 17 U.S.C. § 102, copyrighted works include:

  • works of literature
  • musical works (with or without words)
  • dramatic works (with or without music)
  • pantomimes and choreographic works
  • pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  • motion pictures and audiovisual works
  • sound recordings
  • architectural works

According to 17 U.S.C. § 106, copyright owners have the exclusive right to:

  • To reproduce the work
  • To prepare derivative works based upon the work
  • To distribute copies of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending
  • To perform the work publicly
  • To display the copyrighted work publicly
  • In the case of sound recordings, to perform the work publicly by means of digital audio transmission
  • In the case of a “work of visual art,” the author has certain rights of attribution and integrity

What is Covered by Copyright?

In the beginning, copyright law was intended to cover only books. In the 19th century, the law was expanded to include maps, charts, engravings, prints, musical compositions, dramatic works, photographs, paintings, drawings, and sculptures. Motion pictures, computer programs, sound recordings, dance, and architectural works became protected by copyright in the 20th century.

Copyright protection falls under title 17, U.S. Code, and covers "original works of authorship."

So what makes a work original?

  1. Fixity - not the idea but the fixed expression or the manifestation of the idea
  2. Originality
  3. Minimal creativity

What is NOT covered by Copyright?

  • Works for which the copyright has expired
  • Works federal government employees produced within the scope of their employment
  • Works clearly and explicitly donated to the public domain
  • Works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression (for example, choreographic works that have not been notated or recorded, or spontaneous  speeches or performances that have not been written or recorded)
  • Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring; mere listings of ingredients or contents
  • Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration
  • Works consisting entirely of information that is common property and contains no original authorship (for example, standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures, and rulers, and lists or tables taken from public documents or other common sources)

What is Covered? List Source: CSUDH University Library - Copyright Guide - What is covered by copyright?

Can I Use It? Flowchart

How Do I Get Permission?

What are Term Limits and How Do I Determine Them?


What is DRM?

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a system that encrypts electronic data so that it can only be accessed by authorized users.  This method of "digitally watermarking" resources protects creators' intellectual property from being accessed and shared freely among Internet users.

Scholarly articles that are protected by DRM cannot be saved and emailed; rather, each person who needs a specific article must access it individually.