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Copyright, Fair Use, & Creative Commons: Copyright Basics

Guide Overview

The purpose of this guide is to explain common principles of copyright. Information in this guide should not be interpreted as legal advice.

What is Copyright?

Copyright: Legal Protections for Intellectual Property

Copyright refers to legal protections granted to creators to control how their work is used by others. 

Copyright serves two main purposes:

  • Author's Rights: Copyright establishes that creators have the right to be recognized for and preserve the integrity of their work. This means authors can profit financially from their work and control how their work can be used by others. 
  • Utilitarian: By ensuring that creators can exclusively benefit from their work for a period of time, copyright encourages further creation.

Copyright Protects the Expression of Ideas

Copyright provides protection for original works of authorship in tangible form. It protects the expression of ideas, but not the idea itself. Examples of works protected by copyright include literary works, musical works, theatrical works, and architecture.

How Does a Work Become Copyrighted?

Copyright today in the United States is automatic--as soon as an original work is created in a tangible form, that creation is subject to copyright protection. Typically, copyright protections extend for 70 years following an author's death. 

Additional Resources

Read & Publish Agreements

Learn more about the College of Charleston Libraries' Read & Publish Agreements and other ways it supports Open Access publishing. 

Read & Publish Agreements

Copyright is International

Many countries have laws regulating copyright. Many of those countries have signed onto the Berne Convention, which established minimum standards for copyright protections and principles for cross-border recognition of copyright law.

The emphasis of this guide will be on copyright and its application in the United States legal system.

Other Protections for Intellectual Property

Copyright is not the only form of legal protection for intellectual property. Depending on the type of work, one or more of these other protections might apply:

Trademarks: Words, images, sounds, and other symbols of brands are protected by trademark law. 

Patents: Inventions are protected by patent law. 

Moral Rights: Moral rights protect a creator's honor or reputation. In the United States, only visual art works are granted moral rights, through the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA), 17 U.S. Code § 106A.

Creative Commons License Copyright Guide by Gretchen Scronce is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY).