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A clearinghouse of information about copyright for Brenau University faculty, staff, and students

Why is Copyright Important?

Copyright Basics

What is copyright?

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, copyright 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 Copyright covers both published and unpublished works."

What does copyright protect?

Under 17 USCS Section 102 the following is protected:

  • Literature
  • Music and lyrics
  • Drama
  • Pantomime and dance
  • Pictures, graphics, sculpture
  • Films
  • Sound Recordings
  • Architecture
  • Software

"In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work."

Who owns the copyright?

  • The author
  • Those deriving rights through or from the author
    • This can include publishers, record labels, descendants of the author, etc.
  • If the work is done as a work for hire, the employer of the author is the copyright holder
  • If the work has more than one author, two or more authors can own copyright
-Derived from the Copyright Clearance Center's 2006 Copyright Education Series Foundations Workbook

Seeking Permission

Step 1: Do a Fair Use Analysis (please see the Fair Use Tab). You may be able to use this source in an educational based on certain criteria.

Step 2: If the item cannot be used under Fair Use, then go to Copyright Clearance Center to purchase usage rights OR contact the library to find alternative sources. 

If you would like more information on purchasing and permissions, then checkout Columbia University’s Copyright Advisory Office website. An explanation of the steps for securing permission for copyrighted works can be found on In addition to directions, this site also provides several permission request templates that faculty can use when seeking permission from copyright right holders.

Copyright Duration

How long does copyright last?

The United States has had several copyright codes in its history, so depending on when a work was created, it may or may not be protected by copyright. Check out the American Library Association's Digital Copyright Slider to see if what you want to use is in the public domain or covered by copyright.

© Digital Copyright Slider ©

Intro to Creative Commons

From Creative Commons, "If you’re looking for content that you can freely and legally use, there is a giant pool of CC-licensed creativity available to you. There are hundreds of millions of works — from songs and videos to scientific and academic material — available to the public for free and legal use under the terms of our copyright licenses, with more being contributed every day."

Public Domain

What happens when copyright expires?

When the term of copyright expires (or an individual forfeits their copyrights using a CC0 license or something similar, see the Creative Commons tab for more information), a work is said to enter into the public domain. Works created by employees of the United States federal government are not protected by copyright and are also included in the public domain.

Anyone may reproduce, redistribute, or adapt works in the public domain. Permission for use is no longer required.

Due to the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 (also known as the Sonny Bono Act), no copyrighted works will enter the public domain until 2019.