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About Copyright

Copyright and Intellectual Property.  The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) defines intellectual property (IP) as creations from mind.  They can include literary and artistic works, designs, and also symbols, names, and images used for business.  WIPO identifies 3 types of IP: 

  • Patents are an exclusive right granted for an invention. 
  • A trademark is a sign or design that identifies a company, good, or service from those of another. 
  • Copyright are the rights granted to creators over their tangible literary or artistic works. 

Copyright is a bundle of rights for creators who make an original work in a fixed medium (U.S. Copyright Office, 2016). It also allows creators, or those who hold a copyright, to distribute, perform, copy, display, sell, or make derivatives of their work.  Copyright protections are granted to a creator the moment their work is in a fixed, tangible form.  In other words, the moment when an idea, image, lyric, or other work can be seen, touched, or heard is when a copyright is granted! 

Copyright can also be transferred.  For example, a scholar may transfer the copyright for their journal article or book to a publisher.  Copyright can also be shared in a case where more than 1 person contributed or collaborated to a creation.


Copyright protects the fixed expression of ideas, such as:

Copyright does not protect ideas on their own, such as:


  • Literary and textual works
  • Musical works
  • Dramatic works
  • Pantomimes and choreographic works
  • Images; Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  • Motion picture and other audio-visual works
  • Sound recordings
  • Architectural works

  • Facts
  • Procedures
  • Processes
  • Systems
  • Method of operation
  • Concept
  • Principle or discovery

Copyright Terms.  Copyright protection is given for a term or period of time, and not on a permanent, indefinite basis.  The length of time a work has copyright protection depends on its format (e.g., a book, musical composition, or image), the year it was created, and the country where it was created.  Tools like Copyright Term and Public Domain (Cornell University Libraries) can assist with determining a work's copyright terms based on its format and year of creation if was created in the US.   

Copyright Infringement.  Copyright infringement occurs when someone uses the rights granted to a copyright holder without their permission.  Examples of this may include creating a work that is almost identical to another, using identical code for one type of software for a new one, or ripping and selling bootleg copies of a DVD.  It is both an ethical and legal issue.  Copyright infringement can have consequences ranging from a takedown notice (a notice to remove something from a web page), a civil lawsuit (e.g., Drake's use of sampled music in 'Pound Cake/ Paris Morton Music 2'), or criminal proceedings when done for profit or when fraudulently claiming a copyright.

Importance of Understanding Copyright.  Basic knowledge of copyright is essential for anyone who wants to know their rights over their intellectual or creative work.  Students, researchers, and anyone else in university settings should also have an understanding of copyright.  They often use or build on the work of others, whether it is in their assignments or scholarly activity, or when using materials for teaching and instruction.  They are also more likely to ethically (and legally) use intellectual property and creations of others.  

Source:  U.S. Copyright Office (2016).  Copyright law of the United States.

Disclaimer:  The FAU Libraries and its faculty, staff, and administration are not attorneys and cannot interpret the law.  This information is provided for educational purposes only and does not substitute for advice from legal counsel. 

Need copyright information for teaching and learning purposes?  See the following Research Guide:


Federal Laws

Copyright in Plain Language

Public Domain, Creative Commons and Free Cultural Works

Reusing Works Protected by Copyright

Copyright law grants some use of copyrighted works without permission through its exceptions such as Fair Use and Classroom Use Exception.  If you believe your use will not fall under one of these exceptions, you may want to identify a copyright holder and then ask for permission to reuse.

Register a Copyright

A copyright is automatically granted to a creator for his or her work the moment it is made tangible.  Although registration is not required, it is necessary for defending a copyright in a lawsuit; it may be recommended for those who want documentation for legal purposes.  Creators can either go to the US Copyright Office web page to register theirs, or consult with an intellectual property attorney for guidance.

US Copyright Office (2019).  Copyright registration [Video].

Copyright Policies at FAU

Student Work

Faculty and Affiliate Work

FAU Libraries

Books in the Library

Last updated on Feb 29, 2024 9:22 AM