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Why Read About Copyright?

Copyright law can be complex, boring, vague, and frustrating. However, all patrons are responsible for any infringement on copyright law (Title 17 U.S. Code) -- the law holds you accountable for complying with the law when you work with copyrighted materials.

This page introduces you to some general guidelines for actions are and are not allowed under copyright law. 

What is Copyright?

Copyright law applies to “original works of authorship.”  This includes creative and scholarly works, including books, articles, music, computer software, and movies. However, commonly known information, ideas, and short phrases are not covered by copyright law. To read more about what are considered original works of authorship, take a look at the Trotter Hardy’s overview of copyright and digital archives and the U.S. Copyright Office’s Copyright Basics document.

Some older works are no longer protected under copyright, and are considered part of the public domain. Almost all works published before 1923 are part of the public domain. Copyright law changed several times during the 20th century, and  has special considerations for works published anonymously, unpublished work, and works that were not copyrighted properly. The U.S. Copyright Office offers a more detailed guide to the Duration of Copyright, and Cornell University offers a helpful chart on Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States.


This site is intended for informational purposes only. Library staff cannot give legal advice. For legal advice, contact an intellectual property attorney.