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Scholarly Communication - Open Access

Welcome to the Copyright and Fair Use Page

This research guide has been created to provide general information and guidelines regarding copyright and fair use practices.



For further information regarding copyrights, you can select from options on the left or for a more details visit our 

Intellectual Property Research Guide.

What is Copyright?

Copyright as defined by the United States Copyright Office "is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works."

Below are examples of works protected under copyright law:

  • 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 series of musical, spoken, or other sounds
  • Architectural works

What are the rights of copyright owners?

Copyright owners have the following rights:

  • Reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords
  • Prepare derivative works based upon the work
  • Distribute copies or phonorecords of the work to the public for sale or other transfer of ownership or by rental, lease, or lending
  • Perform the work publicly if if is a literary, musical, dramatic, or choreographic work, a pantomime, or a motion picture or other audiovisual work
  • Display the work publicly if if is a literary, musical, dramatic, or choreographic work, a pantomime, or a motion picture or other audiovisual work

This right also applies to the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work. Perform the work publicly by means of a digital transmission if the work is a sound recording. Copyright also provides the owner of copyright the right to authorize others to exercise these exclusive rights, subject to certain statutory limitations. 

Works not copyrighted include:

  • 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 listing of ingredients or contents

The Duration of Copyright and Public Domain

The Duration of a copyright varies depending on the creation date of the work or multiple authors.

  • Works created on or after January 1, 1978, the term (duration) of the copyright is the life of the author plus 70 years after the author's death. 
  • Multiple authors will be 70 years after the death of the last author. 
  • Works made for hire, the duration is 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, which ever is shorter.
  • Non-published works before 1978 are generally the same term as the January 1, 1978; however, the law provides that in no case would the term have expired before December 31, 2002, and if the work was published on or before that date, the term will not expire before December 31, 2047.
  • Works published or registered before January 1, 1978 the term was 28 years; however, it could be renewed for 67 years for a total term of protection of 95 years. The renewal clause was removed on June 26, 1992 and the renewal term is now optional. 

Public Domain

A work of authorship is in the "public domain" if it is no longer under copyright protection or if it failed to meet the requirements for copyright protection. Works in the public domain may be used freely without the permission of the former copyright owner. 

For more details regarding the term of a work, visit the Cornell University's chart on Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States.

Works that can be used without permission.

  • Works created by U.S. government employees in the scope of their employment
  • Works for which copyright protection has expired
  • Works that do not contain the requisite originality (e.g., facts, blank forms)
  • Works that contain a notice from the copyright owner expressly rejecting any claim of copyright and placing the work in the public domain



This research guide is general information. The guide does not provide legal advice nor is it intended to replace the advice of legal counsel. 

Anthony Paganelli's picture
Anthony Paganelli
Anthony Paganelli
Library Instructor
(270) 745-6079
(270) 745-6079