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Copyright Guide for Academic Use: Is Work Protected by Copyright?

This guide collects useful resources for understanding copyright in the academic context.

About This Guide

This guide is a collection of resources to help you assess whether and how you can use a copyrighted work.  It is not legal advice and not a substitute for legal advice.  

Is Work Protected by Copyright?

The first question in determining whether you can use a work that may be copyrighted is whether the work actually is the type protected by copyright.  If it is not, then you may be able to use the work and not run afoul of copyright law.  To determine this, consider:

  • Is it the type of work protected by the Copyright Act?
  • Is it the type of work excluded from protection under the Copyright Act?
  • If it is the type of work protected by the Copyright Act, has it fallen into the public domain?

To help answer these questions, see the resources on this page.

Is This the Type of Work Protected by the Copyright Act?

The Copyright Act does not protect all works.  It covers original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, including, but not limited to, literary, musical, dramatic, pantomime, choreographic, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, motion picture, audiovisual, sound recording, and architectural works.  17 U.S.C. § 102.  

If the work you want to use does not fit in this definition, for example if the work is not original or fixed, then you may be able to use it.  Copyright does not protect ideas standing alone, it only protects the expression of ideas.  Copyright also does not protect facts alone, as those are not original, but may protect the original expression of facts.

Resources:

What Types of Works Are Not Protected by the Copyright Act?

Particular types of works excluded from copyright protection:

Resources:

What Types of Works Are in the Public Domain?

Even if a work may have been protected under copyright, it can fall in the public domain:

  • after its term expires;
  • or if it was published before January 1, 1978 without a copyright notice or with inadequate copyright notice.

Resources:

Subject Guide