What is copyright?


Copyright is a legal term used to describe the rights that automatically vest to someone who creates an original work of authorship. These rights include the right to reproduce the work, to prepare derivative works, to distribute copies, and to perform and display the work publicly.  

Copyright also gives a work's copyright owner the right to allow others to exercise these exclusive rights, subject to certain statutory limitations A protected work's copyright owner is the only one who can allow others to exercise these rights, and can also impose a monetary fee for extending these rights. Copyright law, however, does not obligate a copyright holder to make their protected work available.

Works commonly protected by copyright include:

  • literary works such as novels, poems, plays, reference works, newspaper articles
  • computer programs, databases
  • films, musical compositions, and choreography
  • artistic works such as paintings, drawings, photographs, and sculpture
  • architecture
  • advertisements, maps, and technical drawings

Copyright protection extends only to expressions, and not to ideas, procedures, methods of operation, or mathematical concepts themselves—although it may protect the way these things are expressed (published, distributed, shared, etc.)

The basis for copyright protection stems directly from the U.S. Constitution, and is meant to incentivize creativity and innovation.


  • Last Updated Aug 24, 2023
  • Views 49
  • Answered By Research & Instruction Librarians

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