Copyright includes a set of limitations and exemptions to protect a creator's right to profit in his or her own creative work. This section provides guidance for members of the Tufts Community in using and sharing copyrighted material for teaching and research. Infringing on copyrights of others exposes individuals and the university to risk, and the possibility of lawsuits and damages.
The author of a creative work holds copyright to that work unless he or she has transferred that right to another (for example, a journal publisher). For more information on your rights as an author, see the section on Author's Rights.
Overview of Copyright Law
Under U.S. law, "copyright" is a bundle of exclusive rights, conferred by federal statute (the 1976 Copyright Act, found in Title 17 of the United States Code) automatically, upon the author of a work, at the instant of its creation. Creation occurs legally when a work is fixed in a tangible medium of expression for a period of more than transitory duration.
Subject to a number of statutory limitations, none of which – except "fair use" – will be reviewed here, the owner of the copyright in a work has the exclusive right to do and to authorize any and all of the following:
- To reproduce the copyrighted work in copies;
- To prepare derivative works (the movie of a book is a derivative work);
- To distribute copies of the copyrighted work publicly;
- To perform (e.g., an opera) the copyrighted work publicly;
- To display (e.g., a sculpture) the copyrighted work publicly, and
- In the case of sound recordings, to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.
If a person or entity does not own the copyright in a work, does not have permission to do 1-6, and does it anyway, then the individual or entity is infringing. The "fair use" of copyrighted materials is an exemption to these prohibitions.
What is copyright?
Copyright is a form of legal protection for authors of original works, including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and other intellectual products. Publication is not essential for copyright protection, nor is the well-known symbol of the encircled "c". Section 106 of the Copyright Act (90 Stat 2541) generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to do the following:
- Reproduce copies of the work.
- Prepare derivative works based on the copyrighted work.
- Distribute copies of the work by sale, rental, lease, or lending.
- Publicly perform the work (if it is a literary, musical, dramatic, or choreographic work or a pantomime, motion picture or audiovisual work).
- Publicly display the work (if it is a literary, musical, dramatic, choreographic, sculptural, graphic, or pictorial work -- including the individual images of a film -- or a pantomime).
The copyright owner retains these rights even when the work itself belongs to someone else. However, the rights are not absolute. They are subject to both "fair use" limitations, which apply to all media, and medium-specific limitations. In addition, some works are in the public domain and are not subject to copyright limitations.
Does my article (or dissertation or paper) have to be registered with the U. S. Copyright Office to be protected?
Original works created after January 1, 1978, are protected by copyright from the moment they are fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Even though registration is not a requirement for protection, the copyright law provides several inducements or advantages to encourage copyright owners to make registration. Registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim and, for works of U. S. origin, it is required before an infringement suit may be filed in court.
Questions about copyright? Contact us.