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Copyright Guide: Copyright Law


This guide is provided for informational purposes only.  VCCS librarians are unable to dispense legal advice.  This guide is based on a guide produced by Piedmont Virginia Community College and was created by a VCCS committee.  

Copyright Law Defined

Copyright symbolCopyright law, as defined in Title 17 of the United States Code, protects "original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression" for a limited period. Copyright protection includes, for instance, the legal right to publish, sell, display, and reproduce literary, artistic or musical work, and applies both to traditional works (books, records, etc.) and to digital media (electronic journals, web sites, etc.).

Specifically, it protects the following eight categories:

  1. literary works
  2. musical works
  3. dramatic works
  4. pantomimes and choreographic works
  5. pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  6. motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  7. sound recordings
  8. architectural works

This video from the Copyright Clearance Center covers the basics of copyright in a brief, informative, and interesting way. You are encouraged to watch it.

Remember, you may use a copyrighted work in your class if you (depending on the individual circumstance):

  • link to a lawfully posted work on the Web or in a library database;
  • make a fair use determination;
  • request permission from the copyright holder; or,
  • determine that the work is in the public domain or if it licensed under the Creative Commons.