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Mohave Community College Libraries

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a form of legal protection (title 17, U.S. Code) that gives the author/creator of an original work a degree of control over the reproduction and distribution of their work. Copyright protection is automatic under current U.S. law and begins the instant an "original work of authorship is fixed in a tangible medium of expression." This protection includes both published and unpublished works. Works do not have to be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office to have copyright protection.

Under the Copyright Act, creators (or whoever holds the copyright) have the following exclusive rights:

  • reproduce the work in full or part
  • create derivatives of their work based on the original
  • distribute copies of their work
  • perform a work publicly 
  • publicly display their work

These "exclusive rights" are subject to some limitations and exemptions, such as the doctrine of fair use. (see Fair Use page).

What is Protected?


Can be Copyrighted  Cannot be Copyrighted

Literary works

Works not in a "fixed" tangible form
Musical works and lyrics

Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes,

principles, or discoveries

Dramatic works Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans
Choreographic works Familiar symbols or designs
Motion picture and other audio/visual works Ingredients of contents (recipes)
Sound recordings.

Spontaneous works not in a tangible form

(speeches, musical works, or choreographs)

How Long are Works Protected?

The length of protection depends on several factors, such as whether it has been published and the date of first publication. In general for:

  • works created after January 1, 1978, protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years.
  • an anonymous work, a pseudonymous work, or a work made for hire, protection lasts for 95 years from the year of its first publication OR 120 years from the year of its creation (whichever expires first).
  • works first published prior to 1978, protection will vary based on several factors, the details of which can be found in chapter 3 of the Copyright Act.

More information can be found on the Tools & Resources tab.


  • Do assume all material is under copyright.
  • Do read "click to accept" agreements on websites. These will often list any restrictions of the materials you want to use (regardless of what it is).
  • Do search out creative commons and public domain materials.
  • Do contact your campus librarian for help finding OER materials.
  • Do use the creative commons website or the resources listed on MCC Libraries suggested resources page to assist you with finding material with more permissions to use.


  • Don't assume because you are using it in the classroom (in person or virtual) that it automatically qualifies as fair use (hint, it doesn't).
  • Don't use a substantial portion of someone else's work that can reasonably be considered the "heart" of their work.
  • Don't use copyrighted materials in the classroom semester after semester. If you are going to do this, you must get the copyright holder's permission.
  • Don't suggest to students that they take pictures, scan, or copy pages of their textbook or any other book (including library course reserve textbooks) to share with others.
  • Don't scan, copy, or take pictures of consumable works. Consumable works are lab books workbooks, study manuals, and other works designed to be written on by students.
  • Don't use a work on the web that you know (or should know) was posted in violation of copyright. Accessible doesn't mean legal!


Audiovisual: A series of related images together with accompanying sounds, intended to be shown by the use of machines or devices such as projectors, viewers, or electronic equipment.


Circumvention: The act of bypassing a technological device or system (passwords, encryption, watermarking) to gain access to or copy a work. 


Commercial Use: For the purposes of this glossary, Commercial Use refers to any activity that is meant to generate income. If an item is marked for non-commercial use, this means that you cannot use it if you intend your work to bring in revenue.


Compilation (Anthology): A work made up of pre-existing materials selected and arranged in a creative and original way, so that the resulting work qualifies for copyright protection. 


Copies: Material objects from which a work can be read or visually perceived. 


Copyright: A set of exclusive rights awarded to a copyright holder for an original and creative work of authorship, fixed in a tangible form of expression. 


Copyright Holder/Owner: With respect to any one of the exclusive rights comprised in a copyright, refers to the owner of that particular right. Rights granted by copyright may be sold or licensed individually, on an exclusive or nonexclusive basis permanently, or for a limited period of time.


Created: A work is "created" when it is fixed in a tangible form for the first time.


Creative Commons: A nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools. There are several types of creative commons licenses available for creators.


Derivative Work: A copyrightable work based on a pre-existing work, such as a translation, or dramatization of a work.


Digital Educational Work: A work that is marketed primarily for online classes.


Display: To "display" a work means to show a copy of it, either directly or by means of a film, slide, television image, or any other device or process of, or in the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to show individual images non-sequentially.


Dramatic Literary Work: Any work in which the story is portrayed by actors; includes plays, movies, operas, television dramas and comedies.


Dramatic Musical Work: Includes musical works incorporated into opera, musicals or music videos.


Exclusive Rights: The rights of the copyright holder to reproduce, distribute, publicly perform, and display a work and to create derivative works based on the original. 


Face-to-Face Teaching Exemption: Exempts all displays and performances when:

  • given by instructor or pupil
  • in a face-to-face teaching situation
  • at a non-profit educational institution
  • in a place devoted to teaching
  • the audiovisual works are lawfully made


Fair Use: A concept copyright law that allows a user to exercise an exclusive right in certain circumstances without the prior authorization of the copyright holder.

“Circumstances” include criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, research or parody. Fair use exemptions must always be looked at using the four "fair use factors" as criteria/


Fixed: A work is "fixed" in a tangible medium of expression when its embodiment in a copy or phonorecord, by or under the authority of the author, is sufficiently permanent or stable to permit it to be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated for a period of more than transitory duration. (US Code)


Fixed in Tangible Medium: The perceptible, physical form of a creative expression, such as words in a book or music on a compact disc. Also one of the requirements for copyright protection. 


Infringement: The act of violating one or more of a copyright holder’s exclusive rights.


Literary Works: Works other than audiovisual works, expressed in words, numbers, or other verbal or numerical symbols, regardless of the nature of the material objects, such as books, periodicals, manuscripts, phonorecords, film, tapes, disks, or cards in which they are embodied. (US Code)


Mediated Instructional Activities: Teaching activities that can be exempt from copyright under the TEACH Act, if they are integral to the course, under the direction of the course instructor, and analogous to the kinds of performances or displays one would expect in a physical classroom. 


Motion Pictures: Works consisting of a series of related images which, when shown in succession, impart an impression of motion, together with accompanying sounds, if any. (US Code)


Musical Works: Works which include any accompanying words and are fixed in some tangible medium of expression. Musical works include both original compositions and original arrangements.


Non-Dramatic Literary Works: Literary works without a dramatic presentation, such as poetry, novels, and factual works.


Non-Dramatic Musical Works: Refers to musical works, such as popular songs that are not incorporated and performed in an opera, musical, or music video. 


Perform: To "perform" a work means to recite, render, play, dance, or act it, either directly or by means of any device or process or, in the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to show its images in any sequence or to make the sounds accompanying it audible. (US Code)


Phonorecords: Tangible objects from which sounds are fixed and can be heard, communicated, or distributed either directly or through the use of a machine.


Public Display: A display of a work before a group larger than a family or a small group of friends or at a place open to the public. 


Public Domain: Works free to use and unprotected by copyright.


Public Performance: Performance before a group larger than a family or small group of friends, or in a place open to the public. (US Code)


Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization (TEACH) Act of 2002: An amendment to copyright law that allows for the public performance and display of copyrighted work in digital forms, and to be transferred through digital networks for teaching purposes at accredited non-profit, educational institutions.


Technological Protection Measures: Digital technologies or software used to control access to or copying of copyrighted works, such as password protection and watermarking.


Transfer of Copyright Ownership: An assignment, exclusive license or any other conveyance, of a copyright or of any of the exclusive rights included in a copyright.


Transmit: To transmit a performance or display is to communicate it by any device or process, whereby images or sounds are received beyond the place from which they are sent.


Work for Hire: A copyrightable work created by an employee or a contractor hired to do so.