What is Copyright?

Copyright is an intellectual property right allowing creators exclusive control over the use, modification and reproduction of original works in a tangible form. Exclusive rights include ability to reproduce, prepare derivatives, publicly distribute copies, perform and display work in either physical or digital environments. The law seeks to balance protection of creator rights while providing access to further scholarship and creativity.

Types of Work Protected

Copyright protects any type of creative work put into a tangible form including but not limited to:

  • Text
  • Artwork
  • Photography
  • Choreography
  • Film
  • Music
  • Sound recordings
  • Architectural designs
  • Computer code.

Works have automatic copyright protection once in a tanglible form and do not require copyright registration for protection.

What is Not Copyright-Protected?

Copyright does not protect:

  • Facts
  • Ideas
  • Works in public domain (expired copyright or placed by creator)
  • Government works

Fair Use

Fair Use is the doctrine of copyright law that allows for legal use of copyrighted materials without seeking permission. The four factors are used to make a reasonable determination of what qualifies for Fair Use. Each factor must be weighed and considered in sum to determine whether Fair Use applies.

Four Factors

Use these criteria to develop good practices in ethical use of information.

  1. Purpose and character of the use – educational versus commercial 
    Fair Use favors nonprofit uses with social benefit.  
    Teaching, scholarship, research, news reporting, criticism, and comment
  2. Nature of Work – factual versus creative expression 
    Factual more likely than creative to favor Fair Use
  3. Amount of work used 
    Amount and sustainability of portion used compared to work as a whole considered – less of work and not consisting of heart of work more likely to favor Fair Use
  4. Effect on Market 
    Effect of use on potential market or value of copyrighted work.


The TEACH Act addresses use of copyrighted works in online learning environments to accommodate distance learning. Access of materials must be restricted to the online class environment for use with classroom instruction to qualify for acceptable use. The Canvas class website provides this restricted access with authentication. Materials should only be made available for the length of the class.

Contact a librarian if you have specific questions about acceptable use of copyrighted materials.