This is the "Copyright Law Basics" page of the "Copyright Information for ResU Personnel" guide.
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Copyright Information for ResU Personnel  

Please note that the majority of information regarding copyright laws came from the University of Florida Libraries at Some information has been retracted and added to cater to the needs of the ResU Community.
Last Updated: Jan 6, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

Copyright Law Basics Print Page

Copyright Tools

Listed here are various tools and charts developed by libraries and copyright scholars that can help determine whether an item is protected by copyright and how copyrighted works can legally be used in teaching or in the creation of new works.

U.S. Copyright Laws

Below is a list of major copyright legislation in the United States with links to the full text. There have been other enactments that have amended portions of the Copyright Act, including the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, that are not listed below but are incorporated and referenced within the larger U.S. Copyright Act.

  • Copyright Act of 1976
    Full text of the Copyright Act, enacted in 1976, which is the primary copyright law in the United States.
  • Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)
    A summary of the amendments made to the Copyright Act by the DMCA. The primary change affected by the DMCA is the prohibition of circumvention of technological protection measures and exemptions to this prohibition.
  • Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization Act (TEACH Act)
    The TEACH Act amended, among other things, section 110 of the Copyright Act to allow performance and display of copyrighted items, of certain character and in certain quantity, in the distance education setting.
  • Berne Convention Implementation Act
    This Act officially made the United States a party, albeit minimally, to the international copyright treaty "The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works."

Copyright Law Basics

Pursuant to the federal Constitution's grant of authority at Art. I, Sec. 8, to protect the rights of authors, Congress enacted the Copyright Act. The Copyright Act offers such protection by granting authors or creators certain exclusive rights with respect to their original works.  In order to be eligible for copyright, a work can be published or unpublished. Copyright protection attaches the moment the work is "fixed in a tangible medium," whether that be a print book, a sculpture, or a web site. In order to assert the exclusive rights granted by the Copyright Act, an author need not include a copyright symbol or statement on the work nor must she register her work with the federal copyright office. Registration is required, however, before a claim of infringement can be asserted. Further, registration within 90 days of publication/creation is a prerequisite to a claim for damages.

Ordinarily, a claim for copyright infringement arises when an encroachment upon one or more of the following exclusive rights belonging to the author or creator occurs:

  • The right to reproduce/copy the work
  • The right to prepare derivative works
  • The right to distribute copies of the work by sale or lease or other transfer of ownership
  • The right to publicly perform the work
  • The right to publicly display the work
  • The right to perform audio works publicly by digital means

These exclusive rights, however, are subject to certain exceptions set out in the Copyright Act. Some of these exceptions are: Fair Use (§107 of the Act), preservation by libraries and archives (§ 108 of the Act), and performance and display of works in an educational setting (§110 of the Act). Please visit the other sections of this Guide to learn more about these and other exceptions.

Not all classes of works are entitled to copyright protection. See the (nonexhaustive) table below:

Copyrightable Works

Non-Copyrightable Works

Literary Works

Works not fixed in a tangible form (e.g. ideas)

Musical works (including accompanying lyrics)

Short phrases, slogans, commercial symbols/colors (however, these may be protected by trademark law)

Dramatic works (including accompanying music)

Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration

Choreographic works and pantomimes (must be fixed in a tangible form, e.g. recorded or notated)

Works consisting entirely of common data (e.g. calendar, government weights/measures charts) or entirely of facts (although creative assembly of facts can be subject to copyright, the facts themselves cannot)

Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works

Spontaneous speeches that have not been formally fixed into a tangible form

Motion pictures and other A/V works

Spontaneous musical or choreographic works

Sound recordings

Federal government documents (mostly)

Architectural plans


Computer programs


(adapted in part from the U.S. Copyright Office "Copyright Basics" circular)

Copyright protection does not last forever. For new works, protection begins with creation of the work and lasts 70 years after the date of the author-creator. At that time, the work passes into the public domain. For older works, cessation of copyright protection and passage into the public domain depends on a variety of factors. See this chart or the Public Domain tab of this guide for more information.


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