Copyright Basics

As new technologies make copyrighted content more easily accessible by all members of the campus community, it is essential that we have a basic understanding of copyright law and its application in the educational environment. This site is intended to provide basic information that hopefully will reduce your doubts, fear and indecision when using copyrighted materials in the educational environment.

What Is Copyright?

Copyright is protection provided by law (17, U.S. Code §102) to the authors/creators of "original works of authorship," expressed in any tangible medium of expression. This protection is available for original works from the moment they are created in a tangible medium, and it applies whether they are published, unpublished, or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.

What Works Are Protected?

The U.S. Copyright law places copyrightable works in the following categories:

  • Literary works (almost all text-based media, including computer code)
  • Musical works, including any accompanying words
  • Dramatic works, including any accompanying music
  • Pantomimes and choreographic works
  • Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  • Motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • Sound recordings
  • Architectural works

Rights of the Copyright Owner

Section 106 of the U.S. copyright law gives the owner of a copyright the exclusive rights to do and to authorize others to do the following:

  • reproduce the work
  • prepare derivative works based upon the work
  • distribute copies of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending
  • perform the work publicly
  • display the copyrighted work publicly


The rights of the copyright owner are, in some instances, limited by several sections of the U.S. Copyright Law. A few of these exemptions apply specifically to the needs of educators, and the broadest exemption can be found by meeting the criteria to be considered Fair Use. However, unless one or more of the exemptions apply, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner before using copyrighted works in any of the listed ways.


Remember, it is both dishonest and illegal, and thus violates the Honor Code, for a person to violate any rights of the copyright owner.