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Copyright on Campus: Copyright Concepts

A user-friendly guide to understanding copyright and fair use issues at Bennington College.

What is copyright?

Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code) to authors. The owner of copyright has the exclusive right to do and authorize the following:

  • To reproduce the work;
  • To prepare derivative works based upon the work;
  • To distribute copies of the work to the public by sale or transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;
  • To prohibit other persons from using the work without permission;
  • To perform the work publicly.

Copyright protection covers both published and unpublished works as well as out-of-print materials. 

Facts, ideas, procedures, processes, systems, concepts, principles or discoveries cannot be copyrighted.  However, some of these can be protected by patent or trade secret laws.

Copyright protection currently lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years.  If there is more than one author copyright protection lasts for the life of the last author's death plus 70 years. 

Click on Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States  for more information. The Digital Slider is also a useful tool to assess copyrighted materials that are now in public domain.

The guide does not supply legal advice nor is it intended to replace the advice of legal counsel. 

To learn more...

  • U.S. Copyright Office
    "The Copyright Office is an office of record, a place where claims to copyright are registered and where documents relating to copyright may be recorded when the requirements of the copyright law are met. The Copyright Office furnishes information about the provisions of the copyright law and the procedures for making a registration or recordation."
  • U.S. Copyright Information Circulars and Forms
    "Link to the circulars and factsheets providing basic information about registration, fees, compulsory licenses, and other aspects of the copyright process."
  • Crash Course in Copyright
    An excellent resource if you want to learn more about copyright. Georgia Harper from the University of Texas Libraries is responsible for the course content which is updated on a regular basic and licensed under Creative Commons.
  • 10 Big Myths about copyright explained
    Brad Templeton presents the "10" common myths regarding copyright.
  • Copyright Information
    University of Minnesota has put together an extensive website on copyright and fair use. The site includes information about copyright and your own works which ties into our section on Author Rights linked from this LibGuide.
  • Know Your Copy Rights
    A project of the Association of Research Libraries providing useful information on using copyrighted material in an academic setting.