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Copyright for Students: Copyright Basics

"Copyright is a  form of protection provided by the laws of the United States to the authors of 'original works of authorship' that are fixed in a tangible form of expression. An original work of authorship is a work that is independently created by a human author and possesses at least some minimal degree of creativity. A work is 'fixed' when it is captured (either by or under the authority of an author) in a sufficiently permanent medium such that the work can be perceived, reproduced, or communicated for more than a short time. Copyright protection in the United States exists automatically from the moment the original work of authorship is fixed." (Copyright Basics (Circ. 1) U.S. Copyright Office).
Note: Ideas and facts cannot be copyrighted, only the tangible expression in a fixed medium of the idea can.  

Copyright protects an author's exclusive right to reproduce (copy), distribute (license), adapt, publicly display or perform the work.

  • This means that if you wish to make a copy of a copyrighted work (unless it is considered a "fair use") you must get permission from the owner of the work
  • You also generally cannot publicly display a copyrighted work (say a movie or work of art) unless you have permission to do so or a recognized "copyright exception" exists.

What's the difference between Plagiarism and Copyright Infringement?


  • When you use someone else's word or ideas without giving proper credit or attribution.
  • Governed by Emmanuel's Academic Integrity Policy
  • Is an ethical issue

Copyright Infringement

  • "(O)ccurs when a copyrighted work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without the permission of the copyright owner." (U.S. Copyright Office)
  • Governed by Federal Copyright Laws and violations can be tried in a court of law and result in monetary fines
  • Is a legal issue

Watch this brief video from the Copyright Clearance Center for more on the topic.

Here are a few common misconceptions (and corrections) about copyright law basic principles.

The internet is fair game

FALSE - Copyright laws still apply to material on or from the internet

No © = no copyright

FALSE - A work does not have to be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office to be protected.

Use in teaching = fair use

FALSE -  Fair use requires a case-by-case evaluation of how a work is being used to determine if it is a Fair Use.  

These are basic guidelines and do not represent legal advise.
Please seek legal counsel for questions related to copyright and fair use.

This guide was adapted from the Copyright Reference Guide (Illinois Library). Except where otherwise indicated, original content in this guide is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) 4.0 license. You are free to share, adopt, or adapt the materials.

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