Copyright law, as defined in Title 17 of the United States Code, protects "original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression" for a limited period. Copyright protection includes, for instance, the legal right to publish and sell literary, artistic, or musical work, and copyright protects authors, publishers and producers, and the public. Copyright applies both to traditional media (books, records, etc.) and to digital media (electronic journals, web sites, etc.). Copyright protects the following eight categories of works:
Ownership of a copyrighted work includes the right to control the use of that work. Use of such work by others during the term of the copyright requires either permission from the author or reliance on the doctrine of Fair Use. Failure to do one or the other will expose the user to a claim of copyright infringement for which the law provides remedies including payment of money damages to the copyright owner.
The Copyright Law contains some specific exceptions for the use of copyright-protected materials by academic institutions. These provisions include:
Section 107 on fair use, which applies to activities such as the use of excerpts for illustration or comment; the unexpected and spontaneous reproduction of classroom materials, and the creation of parodies.
Section 108 on reproduction by libraries and archives, which applies to activities such as archiving; replacing lost, damaged or obsolete copies; patron requests for entire works; and interlibrary loans.
Section 109 on first sale, which permits the resale or lending of copies of works, providing the basis for library lending and the sale of used books.
Section 110 on the use of materials in an educational setting, which permits certain types of content use in the classroom and in distance education.
The TEACH Act, amended sections 110(2) and 112(f) for distance learning.
For complete texts of laws, codes and cases regarding Copyright and Fair Use check out Stanford's Copyright and Fair Use Primary Materials page.