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Copyright: Copyright Basics

This guide provides a brief introduction to copyright.


The purpose of this guide is to assist the Liberty University community in understanding the basic concepts of the Copyright Law of the United States and how it impacts the use of copyrighted materials by students, faculty, and staff. This is not legal advice and should not be considered as such. We are here to help you make informed decisions. If you have questions that are not covered in this guide, please email for assistance.

What is copyright?

Copyright gives an author/creator exclusive rights to original items they create that are "fixed in a tangible medium of expression," meaning that the items are recorded, written, in a physical state, or saved as a computer file. An exception for ownership would be "works made for hire" resources.

These exclusive rights include:

  1. making copies 
  2. making derivative works
  3. selling or transferring ownership 
  4. performing publicly 
  5. displaying publicly
  6. transmitting an audio work publicly

There are limitations to exclusive rights such as fair use, library exceptions, first sale doctrine, face-to-face teaching, TEACH Act, and exceptions for blindness and other disabilities. 

What types of works are protected?

Original, creative works that are "fixed in a tangible medium of expression" are automatically protected by copyright. These works include:

  • literary works
  • musical work
  • dramatic works
  • choreography
  • works of art
  • audiovisual works
  • sound recordings
  • architectural designs 

Items that are NOT protected by copyright:

  • ideas
  • facts
  • works in the public domain
  • simple listings such as a table of contents
  • names, titles, and short phrases
  • procedures
  • calendars
  • symbols or designs

How to use works protected by copyright?

There are certain instances in which you can legally and ethically use copyrighted works. These include:

Please visit the appropriate tabs on this guide for more detailed information. You can also visit the Copyright Basics guide published by the United States Copyright Office for more details.

How long is the work protected by copyright?

Copyright expires after a specified period of time. Once copyright expires, the materials become part of the public domain and can be used freely.

  • Works created after 1977 are protected for the life of the author plus 70 years. 
  • Works published between 1928-1977 may still be protected, depending on the date of publication, type of authorship, presence of a copyright notice, and whether or not the copyright was renewed.
  • Works published before 1928 are in the public domain and can be used freely.

The Copyright Information Center provides a detailed chart for determining the copyright status of works based on their date of publication and other considerations.  

Copyright varies by country, and some countries have created international agreements. Please contact for more information on international copyright and public domain.

Where can I find more detailed information? Circulars are published by the U.S. Copyright Office to provide up-to-date information to the general audience.

The Copyright Law of the United States publication contains text from Title 17 of the United States Code, including up-to-date amendments enacted by Congress.

The Library Copyright site assists users with Section 108, preservation and reproduction of items for libraries and archives.

Reproduction for blind or other people with disabilities statute in Section 121 of Title 17 text regarding the limitations on exclusive rights.

First Sale Doctrine refers to the rights of an owner of a copyrighted work. The owner of the work can sell, lend, or share their copy without having to gain permission. This is similar to purchasing a paperback that you can sell, lend, or share.  

Rights to use this guide

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