Skip to main content

Copyright, Fair Use, & Author Rights: Home

Welcome to the Guide on Copyright & Fair Use

What is copyright?

Copyright is a form of intellectual property law that protects original works of 'authorship' from literary works, to  artistic works and more.  Copyright protects the way an author expresses themselves and the owner of a copyrighted work has the right to authorize others to reproduce that work.    Protection is given to both published and unpublished works and do not require the copyright symbol as copyright begins at an items creation.  Learn more ...



What IS Covered

In the beginnings, copyright law was intended to cover only books. In the 19th century the law was expanded to include maps, charts, engravings, prints, musical compositions, dramatic works, photographs, paintings, drawings and sculptures. Motion pictures, computer programs, sound recordings, dance and architectural works became protected by copyright in the 20th century.

Copyright protection fall under title 17, U.S. Code and covers "original works of authorship."

So what makes a work original?

  1. Fixity - not the idea but the fixed expression or the manifestation of the idea
  2. Originality
  3. Minimal creativity

What is NOT Covered

  • Works for which the copyright has expired
  • Works federal government employees produced within the scope of their employment
  • Works clearly and explicitly donated to the public domain
  • Works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression (for example, choreographic works that have not been notated or recorded, or spontaneous  speeches or performances that have not been written or recorded)
  • Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring; mere listings of ingredients or contents
  • Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration
  • Works consisting entirely of information that is common property and contains no original authorship (for example, standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures and rulers, and lists or tables taken from public documents or other common sources)


What is copyright?

Copyright is a form of intellectual property law (Title 17 of the US code) that protects original works as well as pomotes the advancement of knowledge.  Protection is of "original works of authorship" including literary, dramatic, musical, or artistic works, and also computer software.  Copyright protects the way an author expresses themselves; however, it does not cover ideas, systems, or factual information.   An owner of a copyrighted work has the right to control the use of their work including authorizing others to reproduce it - however, there are exceptions, notably, fair use.    

Protection is given to both published and unpublished works; copyright begins once it is in a "fixed" or tangible form - print or electronic.  Works do not have to have the copyright symbol attached (since 1989) - that is a voluntary process.  Formally establishing copyright ownership is a registration process that is rarely needed since copyright begins with the works creation.  It is mostly needed when dealing with a lawsuit.  ( For more on registering works, see the web site).

The 1976 Copyright Act provides important exceptions to copyright including a provision that codified the doctrine of "fair use" (Fair-use Statute Section 107).  And over time and through legislation and court cases, the doctrine of "fair use" has been established and to some degree codified.


Scholarly Communication at the UC SaN Diego Library

Image credit: Tomás Saraceno. Stillness in Motion - Cloud Cities. CC-BY 2.0 Paul Haahr. Accessed on Flickr.




International Copyright

According to the Association of Research Libraries,

"Copyright law is “territorial,” which means that fair use applies to uses of copyrighted material in the United States, regardless of where in the world it originates." 

Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic & Research Libraries,
January 2012