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Copyright & Fair Use: Copyright Basics

What is Copyright?

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Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States to authors of "original works" that are fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.  Copyright does not protect ideas; copyright protects the expression of ideas.

Under copyright law (Section 106, 1976 Copyright Act) the copyright owner is granted the following exclusive rights:

• To reproduce the work (i.e. to make copies);
• To prepare derivative works (i.e. to make a movie from a book or to translate a work into another language);
• To distribute copies publicly;
• To perform the work publicly (i.e. a play or movie);
• To display the work publicly; and
• In the case of sound recordings, to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.

The owner of the copyright may transfer all or part of these rights to others. See the section on Author Rights(?)

Subject to some exceptions described in this guide (including fair use), if a person exercises any of these rights in use of another’s work without permission, the person may be liable for copyright infringement. 

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Copyright Resources

Page Authors

Sara Grozanick, Alyson Pope, Maureen Diana Sasso