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Copyright on Campus

What is copyright?

Copyright is the section of federal law that stipulates what control authors have over their original works. It is specifically mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, which states:

Congress shall have the right 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

What's protected

§ 102 of U.S. copyright law grants all "original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression" copyright protection. Categories works which are specially mentioned include:

  • literary works
  • musical works, including any accompanying words
  • dramatic works, including any accompanying music
  • pantomimes and choreographic works
  • pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  • motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • sound recordings
  • architectural works

How long does it last?

  • Works created on or after January 1, 1978: life of the author + 70 years. Works made for hire: 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter
  • Unpublished anonymous or pseudonymous works, or unpublished works when the date of the author is unknown: 120 years from creation
  • Works created before January 1, 1978: refer to this chart created by the Cornell University Copyright Information Center

What are copyright holder's rights?

The entire text of U.S. Code Title 17 - Copyrights is available through Cornell Law School's Legal Information Institute. The following sections are especially relevant to higher education:

Copyright Resources

Useful Government sources: 


Consult the following sources for information copyright in general: