Works in the public domain are free to use. Works published before 1923 are in the public domain. From 1923-1963 works published with copyright notice have protection for up to 70 years, but works published without copyright notice are in the public domain. From 1964-1977 works published with copyright notice are protected for 95 years. Works published after 1978 are copyrighted for life of author plus 70 years. Use the provided Digital Slider link to determine whether the item in question is in the Public Domain.
Section 105 of the U.S. Copyright Act prohibits protection for works by the Federal Government. Some work published or distributed by the Federal Government are protected e.g. research funded by the government. Works created by state and local governments are protected.
Be sure to keep copies of written permission correspondence.
The Hocking College Library makes suggestions pertaining to your copyright law decisions. This guide is designed to be a starting point for your copyright questions. Please use caution.
What Is Copyright?
Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U. S. Code) to the authors of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works. Section 106 of the 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to do the following:
• reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords
• prepare derivative works based upon the work
• distribute copies or phonorecords of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending
• perform the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works
• display the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work
• perform the work publicly (in the case of sound recordings*) by means of a digital audio transmission
In addition, certain authors of works of visual art have the rights of attribution and integrity as described in section 106A of the 1976 Copyright Act. For further information, see Circular 40, Copyright Registration for Works of the Visual Arts.
It is illegal for anyone to violate any of the rights provided by the copyright law to the owner of copyright. These rights, however, are not unlimited in scope. Sections 107 through 122 of the 1976 Copyright Act establish limitations on these rights. In some cases, these limitations are specified exemptions from copyright liability. One major limitation is the doctrine of “fair use,” which is given a statutory basis in section 107 of the 1976 Copyright Act. In other instances, the limitation takes the form of a “compulsory license” under which certain limited uses of copyrighted works are permitted upon payment of specified royalties and compliance with statutory conditions. For further information about the limitations of any of these rights, consult the copyright law or write to the Copyright Office.
*note: Sound recordings are defined in the law as “works that result from the fixation of a series of musical, spoken, or other sounds, but not including the sounds accompanying a motion picture or other audiovisual work.” Common Copyright Basics · 2 examples include recordings of music, drama, or lectures. A sound recording is not the same as a phonorecord. A phonorecord is the physical object in which works of authorship are embodied. The word “phonorecord” includes cassette tapes, CDs, and vinyl disks as well as other formats.
Who Can Claim Copyright?
Copyright protection subsists from the time the work is created in fixed form. The copyright in the work of authorship immediately becomes the property of the author who created the work. Only the author or those deriving their rights through the author can rightfully claim copyright. In the case of works made for hire, the employer and not the employee is considered to be the author. Section 101 of the copyright law defines a “work made for hire” as:
1 a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment; or
2 a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as:
• a contribution to a collective work
• a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work
• a translation
• a supplementary work
• a compilation
• an instructional text
• a test
• answer material for a test
• an atlas
if the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed by them that the work shall be considered a work made for hire. The authors of a joint work are co-owners of the copyright in the work, unless there is an agreement to the contrary. Copyright in each separate contribution to a periodical or other collective work is distinct from copyright in the collective work as a whole and vests initially with the author of the contribution.
Two General Principles
• Mere ownership of a book, manuscript, painting, or any other copy or phonorecord does not give the possessor
the copyright. The law provides that transfer of ownership of any material object that embodies a protected work
does not of itself convey any rights in the copyright.
• Minors may claim copyright, but state laws may regulate the business dealings involving copyrights owned by
minors. For information on relevant state laws, consult an attorney.
Copyright and National Origin of the Work
Copyright protection is available for all unpublished works, regardless of the nationality or domicile of the author.
Published works are eligible for copyright protection in the United States if any one of the following conditions is met:
• On the date of first publication, one or more of the authors is a national or domiciliary of the United States,
or is a national, domiciliary, or sovereign authority of a treaty party,* or is a stateless person wherever that person
may be domiciled; or
• The work is first published in the United States or in a foreign nation that, on the date of first publication, is a
treaty party. For purposes of this condition, a work that is published in the United States or a treaty party within 30
days after publication in a foreign nation that is not a treaty party shall be considered to be first published in the United States or such treaty party, as the case may be; or
• The work is a sound recording that was first fixed in a treaty party; or
• The work is a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work that is incorporated in a building or other structure, or an
architectural work that is embodied in a building and the building or structure is located in the United States or a
treaty party; or
• The work is first published by the United Nations or any of its specialized agencies, or by the Organization of
American States; or
• The work is a foreign work that was in the public domain in the United States prior to 1996 and its copyright was
restored under the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA). See Circular 38b, Highlights of Copyright Amendments
Contained in the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA-GATT), for further information.
• The work comes within the scope of a presidential proclamation.
*A treaty party is a country or intergovernmental organization other than the United States that is a party to an international agreement.
What Works Are Protected?
Copyright protects “original works of authorship” that are fixed in a tangible form of expression. The fixation need not be directly perceptible so long as it may be communicated with the aid of a machine or device. Copyrightable works include the following categories:
1 literary works
2 musical works, including any accompanying words
3 dramatic works, including any accompanying music
4 pantomimes and choreographic works
5 pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
6 motion pictures and other audiovisual works
7 sound recordings
8 architectural works
These categories should be viewed broadly. For example, computer programs and most “compilations” may be registered as “literary works”; maps and architectural plans may be registered as “pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works.”
What Is Not Protected by Copyright?
Several categories of material are generally not eligible for federal copyright protection. These include among others:
• works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression (for example, choreographic works that have not been notated or recorded, or improvisational speeches or performances that have not been written or recorded)
• titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring; mere listings of ingredients or contents
• ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration
• works consisting entirely of information that is common property and containing no original authorship (for example: standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures and rulers, and lists or tables taken from public documents or other common sources)
How to Secure a Copyright
Copyright Secured Automatically upon Creation
The way in which copyright protection is secured is frequently misunderstood. No publication or registration or other action in the Copyright Office is required to secure copyright. See the following note. There are, however, certain definite advantages to registration.
Copyright is secured automatically when the work is created, and a work is “created” when it is fixed in a copy or
phonorecord for the first time. “Copies” are material objects from which a work can be read or visually perceived either directly or with the aid of a machine or device, such as books, manuscripts, sheet music, film, videotape, or microfilm. “Phonorecords” are material objects embodying fixations of sounds (excluding, by statutory definition, motion picture soundtracks), such as cassette tapes, CDs, or vinyl disks. Thus, for example, a song (the “work”) can be fixed in sheet music (“copies”) or in phonograph disks (“phonorecords”), or both. If a work is prepared over a period of time, the part of the work that is fixed on a particular date constitutes the created work as of that date.
Publication is no longer the key to obtaining federal copyright as it was under the Copyright Act of 1909. However,
publication remains important to copyright owners. The 1976 Copyright Act defines publication as follows:
“Publication” is the distribution of copies or phonorecords of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending. The offering to distribute copies or phonorecords to a group of persons for purposes of further distribution, public performance, or public display constitutes publication. A public performance or display of a work does not of itself constitute publication.
note: Before 1978, federal copyright was generally secured by the act of publication with notice of copyright, assuming compliance with all other relevant statutory conditions. U. S. works in the public domain on January 1, 1978, (for example, works published without satisfying all conditions for securing federal copyright under the Copyright Act of 1909) remain in the public domain under the 1976 Copyright Act. Certain foreign works originally published without notice had their copyrights restored under the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA). See Circular 38b and see Notice of Copyright section on page 4 for further information. Federal copyright could also be secured before 1978 by the act of registration in the case of certain unpublished works and works eligible for ad interim copyright. The 1976 Copyright Act automatically extended copyright protection to full term for all works that, as of January 1, 1978, were subject to statutory protection.
Copyright Basics U.S. Copyright Office