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What Is Copyright?

Copyright provides the creators of original works of authorship with a set of exclusive rights to copy, distribute, and perform their works for a limited period of time. Protected works include (but are not limited to) books, plays, music, movies, photographs, paintings, sculptures, digital files, and web pages. The U.S. copyright law attempts to balance the private interests of copyright owners with the public interest in the spread of information and is intended, in the words of the Constitution:

"...to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for a limited Time to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

Though having undergone major revisions, notably in 1909 and 1976, the U.S. copyright law endures today and continues to apply to works fixed in any tangible medium of expression. Many of the law's provisions are limited in certain circumstances and the educational milieu is one of the most confusing areas where copyright can be applied.

In This Section

What Is Copyright?
Owners' Rights
Types of Works Protected
Copyright Registration
Length of Copyright Term
Exceptions & Limitations
Plagiarism vs. Copyright
Patents & Trademarks
Liability & Penalties


Content in this page was used or adapted with permission from one or more institutions. Please see acknowledgements.

Information in this page was reviewed and approved by legal counsel. Please see disclaimer. Review date: October 2006.
Did you know...

that copyright is a federal law? It is Title 17 of the United States Code.

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