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Copyright and Fair Use: Copyright Law

Information on copyright and fair use in the academic setting.

© © © © ©

The copyright symbol is optional for copyrighted materials. As a member of the Berne Convention, the U.S. no longer requires the symbol.  Any work in a fixed form (in a notebook, on a paper napkin, or a computer hard drive) is automatically protected. 

Copyright Term and Duration in the U.S.

Currently, the term is life of the author plus 70 years. However, several extensions and amendments over the years have made things complicated. The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act extends the term for works published after 1978 by 20 years (prior to that it was life plus 50). The term for works for hire, works held by corporate entities, or pseudonymous or anonymous works is 95 years from the date of first publication, or 120 years from the date of creation, whichever comes first.

Copyright Law Defined

Copyright law, as defined in Title 17 of the United States Code, protects "original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression" for a limited period. Copyright protection includes, for instance, the legal right to publish and sell literary, artistic, or musical work, and copyright protects authors, publishers and producers, and the public.  Copyright applies both to traditional media (books, records, etc.) and to digital media (electronic journals, web sites, etc.). Copyright protects the following eight categories of works:

  1. literary works
  2. musical works
  3. dramatic works
  4. pantomimes and choreographic works
  5. pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  6. motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  7. sound recordings
  8. architectural works

Ownership of a copyrighted work includes the right to control the use of that work. Use of such work by others during the term of the copyright requires either permission from the author or reliance on the doctrine of fair use. Failure to do one or the other will expose the user to a claim of copyright infringement for which the law provides remedies including payment of money damages to the copyright owner.

See also: Copyright in General for a basic overview and answers to common questions. 


This guide is for informational purposes only. Should you require legal advice, please contact an attorney.