Skip to Main Content

Copyright: Copyright Fundamentals

A guide for CSUF faculty, staff, and students.

What is Copyright?

Copyright is protection, for a limited time, for original work. From the moment of creation, a set of rights are automatically bestowed on the author. To qualify, the work must have some minimal amount of creativity and be fixed in a tangible, communicable form. An unrecorded conversation would not qualify, neither would a reproduction of another work.

Books, music, plays, choreography, art, movies, webpages, software, and architecture are examples of works protected by copyright.

There are many things that are not protected by copyright. Ideas and concepts can't be copyrighted. Neither can procedures, processes, methods, or discoveries. Some of these may be protected by patent or trade secret law. Information that is held in common like calendars and standard tools for measurement are not protected by copyright. Names, titles, and short phrases are not protected by copyright, but may be afforded some protection under trademark law.

Duration & the Public Domain

In the United States, copyright expires seventy years after the author dies. The legal space for works that are no longer protected by copyright is called the public domain. Everyone is entitled to copy and build upon the works in the public domain. For example, the public domain enables publishers to reprint their own editions of older works like plays by Shakespeare. When the author has been dead for over seventy years, anyone is free to publish the work. However, because copyright protection lasts for different periods of times in different countries, it is advisable to consult the laws of the country of origin. Anything published in the United States before 1923 is considered to be in the public domain. Corporations can also be authors. The copyright for US corporate works expires 100 years after publication.

Federal government publications fall within the public domain, but state government publications vary from state to state. 

Here are some helpful links if you want to know if a work is protected by copyright or in the public domain:

The "Bundle" of Rights

The copyright holder enjoys an exclusive set of incentives in the form of rights.  These rights can be split into pieces and bought or sold like any other commodity.  

Copyright is the exclusive right to:

  • Reproduce the work
  • Make derivative works (spinoffs like movies made from novels or toys from movies)
  • Distribute copies by sale or lease
  • Publicly perform the work
  • Publicly display the work

First Sale (Section 109)

The owner of a particular, legally acquired copy is entitled to sell, rent, lease, loan, display, distribute or otherwise dispose of that particular copy.  This exception does not include the right to copy or enable the public display of motion pictures.  It limits the copyright holder's compensation to the first sale with no further entitlement to subsequent sales or distributions of the same copy.  The owner of the particular copy does not own the intellectual property embedded in the copy.  Without this exception, there would be no movie rentals, checkouts from the library, or interlibrary lending.

Public Displays and Performances (Section 110)

For films, there is no exception for public performances outside of face-to-face teaching or distance education situations.  Unless a good argument can be made for fair use (Section 107), permission will have to be requested from the copyright holder, or a public performance licensing agent like Swank.

For musical works, the composition and the individual performance are recognized as separate copyrights.  As a result, any performance generally has two copyright holders.  Like films, there is no exception for public performances of music outside of face-to-face teaching or distance education situations. Unless a good argument can be made for fair use (Section 107), public performance rights must be obtained from ASCAPBMI, or SESAC.

Reproduction for the Disabled (Section 112)

This exception, also known as the "Teach Act," allows "reasonable and limited" portions of films to be streamed online and viewed by students in an educational context.  (There is no consensus as to what "reasonable and limited" actually means).  There are three requirements:

  1. The network must be secure, limiting access solely to the students officially enrolled in the class and only for the duration of the course.
  2. The material must be under the supervision of an instructor shown in the typical routine of class sessions.
  3. The institution administering the course must provide copyright policies, guidance, and educational programs to the campus community.

As an exception to the exclusive rights of the the copyright holder, the Teach Act does not extend to the streaming of works that are made and marketed to be streamed.  It cannot be used as a replacement for educational streaming materials and services.

Exceptions

The exclusive rights of the copyright holder are limited.  The law recognizes that, for certain circumstances, a monopoly may not serve the best interests of society.

Some circumstances in which copyright may be limited are:

In most cases, when a proposed use isn’t covered under a limitation, it is necessary to ask permission from the copyright holder.

Face-to-Face Teaching (Section 110[1])

The copyright holder's exclusive right to display does not extend to face-to-face teaching situations.  As an exception, the law recognizes the classroom as a space for the display of anything that was legally acquired including music and movies in their entirety.  This is not, however, a right to copy.

Distance Education (Section 110[2])

This exception, also known as the "Teach Act," allows "reasonable and limited" portions of films to be streamed online and viewed by students in an educational context.  (There is no consensus as to what "reasonable and limited" actually means).  There are three requirements:

  1. The network must be secure, limiting access solely to the students officially enrolled in the class and only for the duration of the course.
  2. The material must be under the supervision of an instructor shown in the typical routine of class sessions.
  3. The institution administering the course must provide copyright policies, guidance, and educational programs to the campus community.

As an exception to the exclusive rights of the the copyright holder, the Teach Act does not extend to the streaming of works that are made and marketed to be streamed.  It cannot be used as a replacement for educational streaming materials and services.

For More Information

For more information, contact Anthony Davis Jr., Copyright & Policy Librarian, anthonydavis@fullerton.edu.