Copyright is a legal right, grounded in the United States Constitution, that gives the owner of copyright in a work the exclusive right to:
Reproduce (make copies of ) the work; and
Modify or prepare derivative works based on the work. (Examples of derivative works include translations, transforming printed works into musicals or films, rearrangements of scores, and any other recast, transformation or adaptation of a work); and
Distribute the work in any format by sale, publication, license, rental, or for free; and
Publicly perform or display the work; and
Authorize others to exercise some or all of those rights
What is Protected by Copyright?
Original works, whether or not published, that exist in a tangible medium that can be touched, seen, heard, read and fall into one of the following categories are protected by copyright.
Copyright applies to a wide variety of works including, but not limited to:
Musical works, lyrics, and sound recordings
Pantomimes and choreographic works
Visual works (photographs, paintings, sculptures, maps, logos, etc.)
Multimedia works, movies, and other audio-visual works
Architectural works, etc.
These works are protected from the moment they are in a fixed format regardless of whether they contain a copyright notice or copyright has been registered.
Items not protected include, but are not limited to:
Titles, names, slogans
Ideas, procedures, methods, principles, concepts, systems
Works lacking originality (calendars, tape measures, rulers, etc.)
Works created by employees of the U.S. Government in the course of their employment
Works comprised entirely of public domain information
Digital Copyright Slider -Developed by Michael Brewer & ALA Office for Information Technology Policy, this tool can help you determine the copyright status of a work.
The following works are in the public domain and can be used by anyone for any legal purpose without permission.
Works created by U.S. government employees in the scope of their employment
Works for which copyright protection has expired
Works that do not contain the requisite originality (e.g., facts, blank forms)
Works that contain a notice from the copyright owner expressly rejecting any claim of copyright and placing the work in the public domain
Unless you are sure a work you find on a website falls into one of these four categories, you must assume the work is protected by copyright. See Using Copyrighted Material.
Determining copyright terms and what is in the public domain can be difficult; this site is an informational starting point.
This chart, developed by Peter B. Hirtle and maintained at the Cornell Copyright Information Center at Cornell University, lists copyright terms of various types of published and unpublished works, with dates those works fall into the public domain.