Skip to main content

Copyright Essentials

Copyright: An introduction

Copyright is both complex and confusing. Many people have questions about what can be used--as well as when and where and how to use--without violating copyright. Others have questions about their rights as a creator of copyright material. And still others need information on how and when to seek permission to use copyrighted material. This guide helps you answer those questions and more.

In this guide you will find information on

  • fair use
  • classroom use, both virtual and face to face
  • seeking permission
  • author/creator rights
  • copyright and libraries
  • getting help

Use the navigation tabs on the left to find more information for your copyright question or need. You will find helpful tools and guides listed under the Resources for many of the sections

This guide is designed as a basic informational resource for the NMSU community. It is not a substitute for legal advice. Instead, it provides a framework for understanding and working with legal issues, including lawfully using and sharing copyrighted works, as well as protecting our own creative works.

If you don't find what you are looking for, please contact copyright@lib.nmsu.edu  Typically we respond within 24 hours, Monday - Friday. 
 

Image credit: Copyright machine by Dr. Mo. Available at https://www.deviantart.com/doctormo/art/Copyright-Machine-139430827

 

What is copyright?

Copyright is a U.S. federal law (US Code Title 17) that provides protection to creative and intellectual works. Copyright holders, typically authors or creators, have certain exclusive rights to their works. These exclusive rights mean that other people cannot copy or distribute their works unless permission is granted by the copyright holder. There are several exceptions to these rights and these are covered in this guide under fair use, classroom use, and library use. 

 

What is copyrighted? 

U.S. Copyright law protects an original work that is in a fixed, tangible medium. A fixed, tangible medium can be anything that is written down, recorded, or published.
All of these examples are copyrighted:

  • Literary or prose works: books, anthologies, articles, letters, emails, prepared speeches
  • Musical works and accompanying words
  • Dramatic works, plays, and accompanying music and scripts
  • Pantomimes, choreographic works, dances
  • Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works: maps, paintings, drawings, photographs (print or digital)
  • Motion pictures: films, videos
  • Audio/sound recordings
  • Architectural works
  • Software and accompanying documentation
  • Websites

 

What is NOT Copyrighted?

Anything that is

1. In the public domain or

2. Is NOT fixed in a tangible medium 

For example:

  • Works in the public domain. Generally, public domain is anything published before 1923; for example Darwin's On the Origin of Species (1859). Most U.S. government publications are public domain materials. For more information about what is in the public domain, check the Copyright Term chart or use the Digital Copyright Slider listed under Resources below.
  • Impromptu or extemporaneous speeches, singing
  • Listings of contents, short phrases, slogans
  • Familiar symbols, designs (stop or one way signs, copyright symbol)
  • Factual information, such as weights and measures, lists, addresses, dates. For example a list of names and numbers in telephone book, or a listing of dates in a calendar. 
  • Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, recipes, processes, concepts, principles as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration
  • Information that is common property or contains no original authorship. For example height and weight charts

 

What Rights Do Copyright Owners Have?

Copyright owners have a bundle of rights. They can

  • Reproduce their work
  • Distribute it
  • Prepare derivative works
  • Perform their work and
  • Display it

 

Resources

  • Copyright Term and the Public Domain 
    A thorough chart listing copyright term by material type, date of publication, and country of origin. Developed by Peter Hirtle, Cornell University Library
  • Digital Copyright Slider
    Helps determine what is protected by copyright and what is the public domain. Developed by Michael Brewer at the American Library Association Office of InformationTechnology Policy