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Copyright Information: Copyright Basics

Information for faculty and students

Copyright - Simplified

Most works are protected by copyright
Almost all creative and intellectual work is protected by copyright and enjoys copyright protection. Remember th
at facts, ideas, and processes are not subject to copyright.Copyright Button

Copyright is automatic
Creative and intellectual works do not have to have a copyright notice posted or be registered in any way in order to receive copyright protection. This means that everything from a novel to a napkin doodle has full and automatic copyright protections.

Copyright lasts a VERY long time...
Works are protected for the life of the author, plus seventy years. If a work was “made for hire [pdf]” it is protected for 95 years from publication or 120 years from the creation of the work (whichever is less). The rules are different for works made before 1978 and are incredibly complicated. Try this copyright slider (requires Flash Player) from the Copyright Advisory Network when in doubt.

...but it doesn't last forever
Works with expired copyright pass into the public domain and are available to be used in whatever way you’d like. Works created by the US government (and some states), facts, ideas, and processes are not protected by copyright.

A good general rule:  When in doubt, assume that a work is under copyright and seek appropriate permissions.

Copyright Genie Tool (American Library Association)

This tool will help demystify questions regarding when items are protected by copyright. Run questionable items by a copyright expert. CLICK on the image below to begin!

Consult the Copyright Genie

Copyright Protections

What Rights Are Protected by Copyright?


Copyright is actually a bundle of rights. These rights include rights reserved to the owner as follows: 

  • To make copies of the work
  • To distribute copies of the work (by selling, renting, lending, or giving it away)
  • To perform or display the work publicly
  • To make derivative works, like translations, adaptations, and reinterpretations

Because these rights are imagined as a bundle, the owner of the copyright can give away, sell, or otherwise license some or all of these rights to others (e.g., when an author negotiates a contract, s/he may give the publisher the right to copy and distribute the work but not to make future derivative works, for instance).

What Does Copyright Protect?

Copyright only applies to the following kinds of works:

  • literary works
  • musical works, including accompanying words
  • dramatic works, including accompanying music
  • pantomimes and choreographic works
  • pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  • motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • sound recordings
  • architectural works

This list encompasses most kinds of creative or intellectual expression. Works must also be "fixed in a tangible medium of expression" in order to be subject to copyright protection. Unfixed works like improvised music, speeches, or dances are not protected by copyright.

Remember: copyright is not designed to reward hard work but, rather, to foster creativity. Works that took a lot of effort to put together but that don't contain original expression do not qualify for copyright protection.

What is NOT Protected by Copyright?

  • procedures, processes, systems, or methods of operation (these are protected instead by patents)
  • ideas, concepts, principles, or discoveries
  • titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or mere listings of ingredients or contents
  • other unoriginal or unfixed works

Legal Disclaimer and Creative Commons Licensing

Legal Disclaimer:  The information provided in this guide is for general reference purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice of any kind. If you require advice in relation to any specific copyright issues, you should consult an appropriate legal professional about your particular situation.

Creative Commons License

This page was created using material from Portland Community College Library's page, Copyright Resources, and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

MCC Copyright Act Compliance Statement

All College employees and students are required to comply with the Federal Copyright Act of 1976, as amended, 17 U.S.C. 101 et seq., in all activities related to instruction, research and study at the College. The College will maintain procedures and guidelines to assist employees and students with the understanding the parameters of such compliance. Any employee or student who violates the Copyright Act is solely liable for such action.

Penalties for Copyright Infringement

Summary of Civil and Criminal Penalties for Violation of Federal Copyright Laws

Copyright infringement is the act of exercising, without permission or legal authority, one or more of the exclusive rights granted to the copyright owner under Section 106 of the Copyright Act (Title 17 of the United States Code).  These rights include the right to reproduce or distribute a copyrighted work.  In the file-sharing context, downloading or uploading substantial parts of a copyrighted work without authority constitutes an infringement.

Penalties for copyright infringement include civil and criminal penalties.  In general, anyone found liable for civil copyright infringement may be ordered to pay either actual damages or statutory damages affixed at not less than $750 and not more than $30,000 per work infringed.  For willful infringement, a court may award up to $150,000 per work infringed.  A court can, in its discretion, also assess costs and attorneys' fees.  For details, see Title 17, United States Code, Sections 504 and 505.  

Willful copyright infringement can also result in criminal penalties, including imprisonment of up to five years and fines of up to $250,000 per offense.  For more information, please see the website of the U.S. Copyright Office at

Further Reading

Helpful Web Links:

Helpful Books in MCC's Library: