Skip to Main Content

Copyright & Creative Commons

Copyright & Creative Commons

Copyright basics

History of Copyright

Copyright is an intellectual property right and is protected by the U.S. Constitution.

Article I, Section 8 reads, "Congress shall have power... To promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

  • Copyright is intended to reward creators for their creativity and to encourage them to continuing creating new works for the public good.
  • Copyright protects the creator but also benefits the public by ensuring creative works are available.

US Copyright Office

What is Copyright?

Copyright protects original works as soon as the creator fixes the work in a tangible form of expression. To be copyright protected, a work must demonstrate a minimal amount of creativity. 

Copyright is fixed and automatic meaning that a work is copyrighted as soon as it is written down.  Copyright is also automatic and is applied whether or not the work is registered.


What is copyrightable?

  1. Literary works (novels, poems, letters, diaries, etc.)
  2. Musical works, including any accompanying lyrics
  3. Dramatic works, including any accompanying music
  4. Pantomimes and choreographic works
  5. Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  6. Motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  7. Sound recordings
  8. Architectural works

What is not copyrightable?

  1. Ideas
  2. Facts 
  3. Processes
  4. Useful arts (these belong to patent law)
  5. Intellectual property rights, like copyright, allow creators to restrict others from using their work without permission. Two other types of intellectual property rights are trademarks and patents.
  • Trademarks protect the public from being confused about the source of goods or services.
  • Patents give inventors a time-limited monopoly to their inventions.

Exclusive Rights of Copyright Holders

U. S. copyright law provides copyright owners the exclusive rights to:

  • Reproduce the work
  • Prepare derivative works
  • Distribute copies of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership by rental, lease or lending
  • Perform the work publicly if it is a literary, musical, dramatic, or choreographic work; or a motion picture or audiovisual work.
  • Display the work
  • Perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission is the work is a sound recording

Because these rights are afforded exclusively to the copyright holder, faculty and students may not use copyrighted materials without permission.

There are, however, some limitations and exceptions to copyright. Fair use and the public domain will be discussed on the next page.