Copyright and Fair Use

What is Copyright

“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


Copyright, established by the Constitution, is a form of intellectual property law that protects the authors of original artistic and intellectual works. Copyright protection begins from the moment a creative work is “fixed in a tangible (including digital) medium.” A work does not have to be registered with the U.S. Copyright office to be protected and copyright law covers both published and unpublished works. Copyright, however, does have a limited life. Once a copyright expires, the work passes into the public domain, and can be used freely without any copyright infringement. Under today’s law, copyright lasts through an author’s life, plus seventy more years. For the most part, works published before 1923 are in the public domain.

The American Library Association's Digital Copyright Slider provides a quick assessment of whether a work is in the public domain. A detailed overview of copyright terms and public domain is offered by the Copyright Information Center at Cornell University.