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Copyright Basics for Educators and Students

This guide provides basic information about copyright, fair use, and educational exemptions in copyright law. Use the tabs to find additional copyright resources.

Copyright definition

Copyright protection applies immediately and automatically to any original work(s) of authorship that are fixed in a tangible medium of expression.


Don't forget to put a copyright notice on your works!

Adding the notice offers valuable information to readers and users who might need to contact you for permission or further information!

What Things Are Copyrightable?

What things are copyrightable?

  • 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
  • Architectural works

Length of Copyrighted Materials

Length of Copyright

  • Most new works are protected for the life of the author plus 70 years

  • Works published before 1978 were required to have a copyright notice in order to gain protection

  • Works published between 1923 and 1978 could have protection for up to 95 years

  • Current law no longer requires such formalities as a copyright notice, registration, or renewal

Things Outside the Scope of Copyright

Things that cannot be copyrighted include:


  • Works that have not been "fixed in a tangible medium of expression," including dance (choreographic) works that have not been noted or recorded or improvisational speeches or performances that have not been written or recorded


  • Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans, as well as familiar symbols or designs (trademark office can provide protections here)


  • Mere variations of typographical design, lettering, or coloring


  • Recipes: mere listings of ingredients / contents 


  • Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices (patent office / trade secret can offer protections here)


  • Functional works or "useful articles," where any decorative or other copyrightable elements cannot be separated from teh functional features


  • Works consisting entirely of information that is common property and containing no original authorship, including standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures and rules, and lists or tables taken from public documents or other common sources.