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Winthrop University

Copyright and Fair Use: Introduction

Dacus Library advocates for and supports education about copyright and fair use of works that support teaching, learning, research, and creativity. We also support open access to scholarly resources and authors' rights to distribute their works. Copyright can be complicated, and the Winthrop community should be familiar with the basics of copyright as it pertains to teaching, learning, research, and creative works and output. Information in this guide should not be considered legal advice. Review Winthrop's full Copyright Policy.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act

The 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (PDF) (DMCA) amends the Copyright Act of 1976 and establishes certain limitations of copyright infringement liability for online service providers (OSPs), including colleges and universities, when certain requirements are met. Other provisions include prohibitions on circumvention of technological protection measures.

What is Copyright?

U.S. Copyright Law defines copyright as "original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression." Copyright owners have exclusive rights to:

  • reproduce the work, in whole or in part
  • distribute copies of the work
  • publicly perform the work
  • publicly display the work
  • prepare derivative works based on the original, such as translations or adaptations

These rights are subject to exceptions and limitations, such as a fair use provision that allows limited uses of works without permission from the copyright holder.

Protected and Unprotected Works

Copyrighted works must be original and recorded in some permanent way that lasts for more than a short amount of time. The follow are examples of protected work:

  • 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, which are works that result from the fixation of a series of musical, spoken, or other sounds
  •  Architectural works

Copyright does not protect*: 

  • Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, or discoveries
  • Works that are not fixed in a tangible form (such as a choreographic work that has not been notated or recorded or an improvisational speech that has not been written down)
  • Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans
  • Familiar symbols or designs
  • Mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring
  • Mere listings of ingredients or contents

*Learn more about unprotected works.

Source: Copyright Basics, U.S. Copyright Office Circular 1