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Copyright Guide: Basics

Learn the main topics associated with copyright and ethical reuse of information and copyrighted materials.


Members of the UACCM community, including faculty, students and staff, often have occasion to use copyrighted material in connection with their teaching, classroom assignments or research. The purpose of this guide is to promote the understanding of and compliance with applicable provisions of copyright law. It provides practical information in order to encourage and promote the lawful use of copyright protected materials.

What is copyright?

The U.S. Copyright Act (title 17 of the U.S. Code) is the federal statute that describes copyright law in the United States. Copyright protection applies to original works of authorship set in a tangible medium. Original works may include literary, dramatic, musical, architectural, cartographic, choreographic, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, and audiovisual creations. A tangible medium may include anything from paper to hard drives and other electronic memory devices, the web, film, software, architectural blueprints, etc.

Why is copyright important?

You are creators and users of copyrighted works.

Significant penalties can be imposed for copyright infringement.

Copyright law may restrict how faculty can use copyrighted works in their teaching, research, and writing.

Copyright law offers a number of exceptions that can apply in an educational setting.

What is protected?

Copyright protection is designed to give creators of original creative works the right to be compensated when others use their works in particular ways. It grants copyright holders with exclusive rights to the reproduction, adaptation (preparation of derivative works such as a translation or adaptation of a movie from a book), publication, performance and display of the work publicly. Today, copyright protection is automatic so no registration, use of the copyright symbol or notice is required. However, use of the copyright symbol is recommended because it reminds the public that the work is protected. Copyright registration is required before a lawsuit for copyright infringement can be filed. If the copyright is timely registered, the copyright owner can also recover statutory damages and costs and attorney fees which can be significant in an infringement lawsuit.

What is NOT protected?

Works not fixed in a tangible form of expression (improvisational speeches or performances that have not been written or recorded);

Titles, names, slogans or short phrases; common symbols or designs; mere listings of ingredients or contents

Works consisting entirely of “common property” and no original authorship such as standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures, rulers etc.;

Ideas, procedures,  processes, systems, methods of operation, concepts, principles, or discoveries (17 U.S.C section 102(b))


This guide has been adapted from Clemson University Libraries Copyright guide by Andy Wesolek.