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Copyright protects "original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression." Copyright protects the expression but not the ideas or facts expressed.

Copyrightable works include [17 USC 102(a)]:

  1. literary works - books, magazines, software, web pages
  2. musical works - songs, musical plays
  3. dramatic works - plays, dramatic readings
  4. pantomimes and choreographic works
  5. pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works - paintings, photographs, cartoon characters, maps, technical drawings, boat hull designs
  6. motion pictures and other audiovisual works - films, videos, slides
  7. sound recordings - disks, tapes, records
  8. 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 to:

  1. Reproduce the work
  2. Make adaptations or derivative works
  3. Distribute copies of the work
  4. Perform the work publicly
  5. 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 below.

Factors determining Fair Use [17 USC 107]:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

General Tips:

  • 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 against infringement).
  • The majority of information on the Internet is copyrighted and not in the public domain.
  • 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 copyright.


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

Karen Kitchens
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 assistance.


Created by Statewide Information Services, Wyoming State Library
Last updated September 2010.


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