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Copyright Basics

Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States to the authors of original works including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works that are fixed in a tangible form of expression.  (Title 17 US Code)  The protection is available to both published and unpublished works. The two key requirements to obtain protection are that the work must be original and be fixed in a tangible form.

The owner of copyright has the exclusive right to control the use of their work including the following:

  • Reproduce the works
  • Prepare derivative works
  • Distribute copies of the works
  • Display the work publicly
  • Perform the work publicly

It is illegal for anyone to violate any of the rights provided by the copyright law to the owner of copyright.  These rights, however, are not unlimited in scope.  The copyright Act establishes limitations on these rights.  One major limitation is the doctrine of “fair use,” which is important in an education setting because it permits the use of portions of works for purposes such as criticism, teaching, scholarship or research. (17 USC 107) Please see the Fair Use section for more information about this exception.

Who Can Claim Copyright?

Copyright may be owned by the author, their employer, and/or co-authors.

 The author who created the work immediately becomes the owner of the copyright at the time the work is created in fixed form.  Only the author or those deriving their rights through the author can rightfully claim copyright.  The employer is considered to be the author in the case of works for hire.  A “work made for hire: is “a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment; or a work specially ordered or commissioned for use …if the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed by them that the work shall be considered a work made for hire.” (17 USC 101)  The authors of a joint work are co-owners of the copyright in the work, unless there is an agreement to the contrary.  Copyright in each separate contribution to a periodical or other collective work is distinct from copyright in the collective work as a whole and vests initially with the author of the contribution.

An important general principle is that ownership of a book, manuscript, painting or any other copy or phonorecord does not give the possessor the copyright.  In other words, when you buy a book you are the owner of the tangible form, but do not obtain the copyright.

What Works are Protected?

Copyright protects “original works of authorship” that are fixed in a tangible form of expression.  Copyrightable works include the following categories:

  • Literary works
  • Musical works, including any accompanying words
  • Dramatic works, including any accompanying music
  • Pantomimes and choreographic works
  • Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  • Motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • Sound recordings
  • Architectural works

What Is Not protected by Copyright?

Categories of material which are generally not eligible for federal copyright protection include among others:

  • Works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression, for example, improvisational speeches or performances that have not been written or recorded.
  • Titles, names, short phrases; familiar symbols or designs; mere listings of ingredients or contents.
  • Ideas, procedures, concepts, principles, or discoveries as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration.
  • Works consisting entirely of information that is common property and containing no original authorship, for example, standard calendars, height and weight charts, ruler, and lists or tables taken from public documents.

How Do You Secure a Copyright?

Copyright is secured automatically upon creation, no publication or registration or other action in the Copyright office is required to secure copyright.  A work is “created” when it is fixed in a copy or phonorecord for the first time.  While registration is not required there are certain definite advantages to registration.

Notice of Copyright

The use of a copyright notice is no longer required under U.S. law, although it is often beneficial.    A copyright owner may use a copyright notice without advance permission from or registration with the Copyright Office.

EWU Copyright Policies

For information about EWU copyright and intellectual property-related policies, see the EWU Office of the President Policies and Procedures site.