Copyright and Fair Use Defined

Acopyrightis a property right attached to an original work of art or literature. It grants the author or creator exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, adapt, perform, or display the protected work. Other than someone to whom the author/creator has extended all or part of these rights, no one else may use, copy, or alter the work. Wrongful use of the material gives the copyright owner the right to seek and recover compensation in a court of law.  A copyright gives the author or owner the right of control over all forms of reproduction, including photocopies, slides, recordings on cassettes and videotapes, compact disks, and other digital formats.

Individuals once had to apply for copyright protection.  However, works created since 1978 assume protection from the moment the work takes tangible form--whether or not a copyright notice is attached and whether or not the individual has filed an application with the U.S. Copyright Office.  For works created and published before 1978, copyright lasts 75 years from the time of publication or copyright renewal.  

Copyright laws do not extend to facts and ideas. While the protection does cover the particular, distinctive words a writer uses to present ideas or facts, control over the underlying concepts or truths cannot be owned. Thus, a biography about a U.S. President qualifies for copyright, but the events and facts of his life do not. 

To qualify for copyright protection, the work must be (a) original, (b) creative to a minimal degree, and (c) in a fixed or tangible form of expression.

Copyright law coversseven broad categories:

  1. literary works- both fiction and nonfiction, including books, periodicals, manuscripts, computer programs, manuals, phonorecords, film, audiotapes, and computer disks
  2. musical works-- and accompanying words – songs, operas, and musical plays
  3. dramatic works-- including music - plays and dramatic readings
  4. pantomimed and choreographed works
  5. pictorial, graphics, and sculptural works-- final and applied arts, photographs, prints and art reproductions, maps, globes, charts, technical drawings, diagrams, and models
  6. motion picturesandaudiovisual works- slide/tape, multimedia presentations, filmstrips, films, and videos
  7. sound recordingsand records - tapes, cassettes, and computer disks (Talab, 1986, p. 6).

A copyrighted work may be used or copied under certain conditions:

Through the fair use provision, teachers have access to works far beyond classrooms or textbooks and thereby may expand and enrich learning opportunities for student learning.

For additional information reference National Education Association. Fair Use Defined