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Rights Granted to Copyright Holders

U.S. Copyright law grants a wide variety of exclusive rights to copyright holders. Section 106 (17 USC 106) states that:

“the owner of copyright … has the exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following:

  1. to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords;
  2. to prepare derivative works (adaptations) based upon the copyrighted work;
  3. to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending (except as limited by the “First Sale” rights outlined in section 109);
  4. in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works, to perform the copyrighted work publicly;
  5. 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, to display the copyrighted work publicly; and
  6. in the case of sound recordings, to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.”
  • Copyright law grants the creator of original works the rights to choose how those works are and are not used and, if they so desire, to receive compensation for their work or to transfer ownership to others.
  • In the U.S., as in many other countries, copyright no longer requires registration or notice. That is, as soon as a work is placed in a “tangible medium of expression,” copyright exists in the work. Copyright is in place even if the author neglects to affix a notice of copyright

Limitation of Exclusive Rights of Copyrighted Materials

Although the Copyright law protects original works and gives the authors the right to control the creation of not only copies but also derivative works, among other things the goal of the copyright law is to “promote the Progress of Science and Useful Arts, by securing for a limited time to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” To achieve this end the copyright law

  • provides faculty with rights to use portions of copyrighted works in the classroom, but those rights do not necessarily extend beyond the real or virtual classroom,
  • gives libraries extra rights to make copies,
  • defines the principle of fair use, which permits certain uses of copyrighted works without the permission of the copyright holder.
  • Some, but not all, educational uses qualify as fair use.
  • Four principles govern whether or not a use is fair use:
  1. The purpose and character of the use,
  2. the nature of the work,
  3. the amount used, and
  4. the effect on the market for the work.

Duration of Copyright Protection

As the phrase “for a limited time” suggests, copyright does not last forever, however, the duration of copyright protection varies making it difficult to determine the exact coverage for each work. The Library of Congress Copyright Office Circular 22 explains how to determine the copyright status of a work. Helpful summaries of this publication can be found at The Catholic University of America. See also University of North Carolina.