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Copyright: Basics

Copyright Compliance Officer

Elizabeth Fox's picture
Elizabeth Fox
Contact:
Briggs Library, Box 2115
South Dakota State University
Brookings, SD 57007-1098
Room 019 (lower level, north side of the room labeled Government Documents)
605-688-5569
Skype Contact

Notice - Information on Copyright Does Not Constitute Legal Advice

Note that the author of this guide is not an attorney and is providing information on copyright only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice. For legal advice, please see an attorney.

Copyright Defined

Copyright is a set of rights given to creators of original works (or their employers) by the government for a limited time. Copyright law is codified in the U.S. Code in TItle 17.

Rights granted to creators:

1. Reproduce or copy a work (in any format)

2. Distribute a work

3. Publicly perform a work

4. Publicly display a work

5. Create derivatives of works

Works that can be copyrighted:

1. Must be original

2. Must be in a fixed medium (written, recorded, photographed, saved on a computer, etc.)

3. Cannot be a simple fact (although the expression of a fact can be copyrightable)

For example, the fact that the atomic weight of gold is 196.97 is not copyrightable but the image below illustrating this fact is.

Image illustrating the atomic weight of gold

Length of copyright coverage:

How long a work is covered by copyright is very confusing. There are a number of websites that give a good overview of it but whether an individual work is covered or not is often challenging to discover. Look at the Permissions/Investigations page under the Fair Use tab for more information on finding out if a work is covered by copyright.

The Copyright Office of the Library of Congress gives a good brief description of the length of copyright.

Laura Gassaway's table describing the length of copyright based on various criteria.

Cornell University's Copyright Term table in pdf form.

Is This Copyrighted?

Copyright extends for a long time. The times given below are a small segment of the possibilities and the full copyright term chart should be checked. For many works, copyright is very difficult to define and includes not only knowing who owns the copyright but if/when they died, when the work was first published if the work was published and if not, when it was created, whether it was ever registered, etc. A good chart of copyright terms/public domain is located at http://dearrichblog.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default.

Works Created by U.S. Government Employees as Part of Their Job

All works created by U.S. Government Employees as part of their job are in the public domain from the time of their creation.

Works Created by South Dakota State Employees Other Than University Faculty as Part of Their Job

The state of South Dakota follows federal copyright laws and does not give up copyright on works created by employees of the state. For most employees, the state of South Dakota owns copyright for works created in the course of employement. For employees of the South Dakota Board of Regents, the Board of Regents owns the copyright on works created by employees in accordance with the Intellectual Property agreement signed by employees prior to employment.

Unpublished Works

  Copyright Term What is in the public domain
Works by an individual or group Life of the author plus 70 years Anything by authors who died before 1942
Corporate or anonymous authors 120 years from the date of creation Anything created before 1892

Works First Published or Registered in the United States

  Publication Date Copyright Term
All Works Before 1923 None - in public domain
All Works Between 1923-2002

Murky with lots of conditions to check

Check more extensive copyright term chart

Works by an individual or group After 2002 Life of the author plus 70 years
Corporate or anonymous authors After 2002

95 years from publication or

120 years from creation, whichever comes first

Works First Published Outside the United States by Foreign Nationals or U.S. Citizens Living Abroad

  Publication Date Copyright Term
All Works Before 1923 None - in public domain
All Works 1923 or After

Murky with lots of conditions to check

Check more extensive copyright term chart

Sound Recordings

  Date of Fixation Copyright Term
All works Before February 15, 1972 Enters public domain in 2067
All works February 15, 1972 - 1978 without copyright notice None - in public domain
All works February 15, 1972 - 1978 with copyright notice Death of copyright holder plus 95 years
All works 1978 - March 1, 1989 without copyright notice or registration None - in public domain
Works by an individual or group 1978 - March 1, 1989 with copyright notice or registration Death of creator plus 70 years
Corporate or anonymous works 1978 - March 1, 1989 with copyright notice or registration

95 years after date of creation or

120 years after date of publication, whichever comes first

Works by an individual or group March 1, 1989 - present Death of the creator plus 70 years
Corporate or anonymous works March 1, 1989 - present

95 years after date of creation or

120 years after date of publication, whichever comes first

What Rights Do I Have as a Creator?

The video linked below is made with a web animation system called xtranormal. It is irritating for some people to watch so there is an alternative version of the video here.

To Whom Does Copyright Apply?

I'm a student/faculty at SDSU, copyright doesn't apply to me, does it?

Copyright applies to everyone. Almost every country in the world has some sort of copyright law and anyone in the U.S. has to abide by U.S. copyright laws. As a student, you have some leeway with copyright in that you can apply the concept of Fair Use to almost everything you do with copyright works as a student (note the almost - it is important). Check out the section on Fair Use!

Faculty are also required to abide by copyright laws in both their teaching and their research. Again, Fair Use allows them to use materials in ways that are not permitted in all situations, but the law still applies.

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