Copyright protects "original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium
of expression." Copyright protects the expression but not the ideas or facts
Copyrightable works include [17 USC 102(a)]:
- literary works - books, magazines, software, web pages
- musical works - songs, musical plays
- dramatic works - plays, dramatic readings
- pantomimes and choreographic works
- pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works - paintings, photographs, cartoon
characters, maps, technical drawings, boat hull designs
- motion pictures and other audiovisual works - films, videos, slides
- sound recordings - disks, tapes, records
- architectural works - design of buildings, blueprints
As soon as the work is fixed in a tangible medium, copyright is in effect.
Use of the © notice and registration with the U.S. Copyright Office are
not required for copyright to apply.
Only copyright owners, or persons authorized by the owner, have the right
- Reproduce the work
- Make adaptations or derivative works
- Distribute copies of the work
- Perform the work publicly
- Display the work
Fair use is an exception to U.S. copyright law that allows limited use for
research, education, criticism, news reporting, and parody. The outcomes of
fair use cases are difficult to predict because the concept is not defined in
the U.S. Code. Fair use is decided on a case-by-case basis using the four
Factors determining Fair Use [17 USC 107]:
- the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a
commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
- the nature of the copyrighted work;
- the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the
copyrighted work as a whole; and
- the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the
- Factor 1 does not give noncommercial entities unrestricted copying
privileges. Use for non-profit or educational reasons does not protect an
individual against infringement.
- Factor 2 addresses the idea that some works by their very nature cannot
qualify for fair use (e.g. standardized tests). Also, nonfiction receives more
fair use consideration than fiction.
- The amount you quote does not necessarily protect you from infringement.
Even if what you copy is small in size, you can be considered in violation if
that small amount is the "heart" of the copied work (Factor 3).
- Always credit the author for anything you quote (this is not a defense
- The majority of information on the Internet is copyrighted and not in the
- Do not use word-count guidelines.
- Some commercial publishers republish U.S. government documents with
additional content. These works' original, creative content is protected by
- U.S. Copyright Office
- Friends of Active Copyright Education
- U.S. Code (Title 17 - Copyrights)
- When Copying is "OK" - The 'Fair Use' Rule (Nolo Press)
- Tips to Consider When Requesting Permission to Use Copyrighted Literary
Works - Association of American Publishers
Wyoming State Library
No information in this handout should be construed as legal
advice. Librarians at the Wyoming State Library can assist with the use of
legal search tools and factual information but cannot offer legal opinions or
interpretations of law. Consult an intellectual property attorney for legal
Created by Statewide Information Services, Wyoming State Library
Last updated September 2010.