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A guide to current copyright regulations, fair use, and the public domain.

Copyright in the U.S.

The Congress shall have Power ... To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 8


American copyright law gives authors of original creative works a number of exclusive rights in order to establish a financial incentive to create.

There are also some explicit exceptions to allow future creators to make limited use of these works to create new works of their own as well as allow educators and researchers to build on the work of others to further the progress of scholarship.

Copyright Law and the U.S. Copyright Office

Your Rights as a Creator

Protected materials include written work, artwork, musical scores, choreography, and architectural designs that are fixed to a tangible medium.

The creators of these works are given the following rights for the designated period of copyright protection (usually the life of the creator + 70 years):

  • The right to make copies,
  • prepare derivative works,
  • sell or distribute copies, and
  • display and/or perform the work publicly.

Anyone other than the copyright holder must have permission to perform these actions with the copyrighted work, unless the use can be considered "fair use" or the item has fallen out of the term of copyright protection and is in the public domain.

Academic Authors

Authors of scholarly research sign over many of these rights to the publishers of paywall-based scholarly journals when the articles are published. Many authors choose to publish their work open access to maintain more ownership and give others greater flexibility in usage than traditional copyright agreements generally allow.

Need to use copyrighted work in your own work or research?

Copyright owners can give you permission to use their work, but please note that if an article has been published through an academic journal, the journal owns most of the copyright on that article, not the author.

Further Reading


The information presented here is for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.

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Vicky Orlofsky
Research Services Department