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Copyright Basics

What is Copyright?

What is copyright?

Copyright is a set of laws designed to protect original works of authorship in a tangible form of expression. These laws offer copyright owners’ protection over how their work is reused. The copyright owner retains the sole right to:

  • Reproduce the work;
  • Prepare derivative works based upon the work;
  • Distribute copies of the work;
  • Display the work;
  • Perform the work publicly (if the work is a literary, musical, dramatic, motion pictures or other audiovisual work. In the case of sound recordings, the owner maintains the right to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.)


What Works Are Protected?

Examples of copyrightable works include

• Literary works
• Musical works, including any accompanying words
 • Dramatic works, including any accompanying music
  • Pantomimes and choreographic works
 • Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  • Motion pictures and other audiovisual works
 • Sound recordings, which are works that result from the fixation of a series of musical, spoken, or other sounds
• Architectural works

From Copyright Basics, Circular 1, U.S. Copyright Office, available online at

Director of the Library

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Jessica Boyer
Phillips Library
16300 Old Emmitsburg Rd
Emmitsburg, MD 21727


This guide is not intended to be legal advice. It is designed to provide general information about copyright to consider while researching and teaching in the education field.

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