This guide will inform you on copyright and issues pertaining to the use of copyrighted materials. It will not supply legal advice nor is it intended to replace the advice of the office of General Counsel. If you cannot find the answer to your question here or would like to arrange a consultation, please feel free to ask your copyright librarian.
Permission to use and modify this guide was obtained from LeEtta Schmidt of the University of South Florida Library.
Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U.S. Code) to the authors of "original works of authorship," including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works.
Copyright protection exists from the moment a work is fixed in a tangible form of expression (This could include a DVD, CD, even a napkin with writing on it). It is the right granted by law to an author or creator to control the use of the work created. This allows the owner of the copyrighted material to:
(Video courtesy of University of South Florida)
Under the copyright act, section 102, the following is protected:
Works are protected for the life of the author plus 70 years per the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act which applied to works created from 1978 onwards. The protected status of works published before 1978 and after 1923 varies in accordance with how they were published, registered, and renewed. Due to the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act, materials published, registered, and renewed in the U.S. between 1923 and 1978 stopped falling into the public domain for twenty years, which meant that only material published before 1923 were reliably in the public domain. On January 2019, items published in 1923 in the U.S. had their copyright expire.
Copyright law and duration varies per country. However, several countries have worked together to create international agreements that align policies across borders. Foreign works are, for the most part, protected for the same term as works published within the user's country for all signatories of the Berne and TRIPS agreements. The U.S. is both an adopter of the Berne convention and a party of the TRIPS agreement.
The Public Domain is a state of belonging to the public as a whole and not being protected by copyright law. Works in the public domain are those for which copyright protection has expired, been forfeited or were inapplicable. They can be copied, distributed, performed and displayed without seeking permissions or applying to an exception under copyright law. For example:
There are a few handy tools that can help you determine if a work is in the public domain:
(Video courtesy of LeEtta Schmidtt, Copy Right Librarian, University of South Florida.)
There are several ways you can use copyrighted work.
Get more information: