Copyright protects “original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression” including books, articles, movies, and music, etc. Original works automatically receive copyright, though registering a work with the US Copyright Office offers some additional protections against copyright infringement.
U.S Copyright Code,17 § 106a gives creators the following exclusive rights:
- To reproduce the work – e.g. making physical or digital copies of your work
- To prepare derivative works based upon the work – e.g. creating a subsequent article, chapter, or book that builds upon the original or prior research on a particular topic
- To distribute copies – e.g. distributing physical or digital copies of your work to colleagues, students, or at conferences
- To publicly perform the work. - e.g. showing a video of your field work in the classroom or at conferences
- To publicly display – e.g. showing photos, exhibits, and figures from your works in the classroom or at conferences
- To publicly perform sound recordings via a digital audio transmission – e.g. for those working with sound recordings, to digitally transmit your work (broadcast online, etc.)
Creators also have the right to transfer any or all of these rights to others.
The copyright term is currently 70 years after the death of the author. Once the copyright term ends, content becomes public domain.
Users must ask permission of the copyright holder to reuse copyrighted content unless claiming a fair use exemption.
Fair use, covered under U.S Copyright Code,17 § 107, and allows for people to use copyrighted content without requiring permission. Fair use is determined by balancing four factors:
- Purpose: The purpose and character of the use, the purposes that favor fair use include education, scholarship, research, and news reporting, as well as criticism and commentary more generally. Non-profit purposes also favor fair use (especially when coupled with one of the other favored purposes.)
- Nature: The nature of the copyrighted work, including whether it is published or not. It is less likely to be fair to use elements of an unpublished work. Another element of this factor is whether the work is more “factual” or more “creative”: Borrowing from a factual work is more likely to be fair than borrowing from a creative work.
- Amount:The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole, the amount is proportional.
- Effect:The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work In the particular instance of use is substituting for a sale the source’s owner would otherwise make. It is possible for a use to be fair even when it causes market harm.
Content out of copyright is in the public domain and may be used freely. Works come into the public domain when the copyright term ends, when creators explicitly place the work in the public domain, or when copyright does not apply (such as for content created by the U.S. federal government).