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 copyrights as an author or creator. 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
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 Resources for many of the sections
Disclaimer: This guide is designed as a basic informational resource for the NMSU community and 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 one's own creative works.
What is copyright?
Copyright is a U.S. federal law (US Code Title 17) that provides protection to creative and intellectual works. In fact, copyright is a component of the United States Constitution. Located in the section discussing the roles and powers of Congress, Article I Section 8 states that
"The Congress shall have the 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."
Note that promotion of the progress of science and useful arts (i.e., the public having access and ability to use copyright material owned by authors and inventors) takes precedence over the ownership of the work. In other words, the U.S. Constitution puts more importance on the public's access to and use of creative works than on ownership of those 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 the copyright holder grants permission. There are several exceptions to these rights and these are covered in this guide under fair use, classroom use, and library use.
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:
Anything that is
1. In the public domain or
2. Is NOT fixed in a tangible medium
For more information on the public domain, click here.
What Rights Do Copyright Owners Have?
Copyright owners have a bundle of rights. They can
A short course for university faculty, staff, and students about copyright. Created by the Center for Learning and Professional Development at New Mexico State University. You must be an NMSU student, faculty, or staff member to access.