Copyright is a legal device that addresses the rights held by creators of original works, whether expressed as music, words, painting, published or unpublished.

The rights of copyright owners include control over the reproduction, distribution, performance, display and adaptation of the work. Ideas, principles or concepts are not subject to copyright. However, copyright protection is available for a particular expression of an idea, principle or concept.

The first establishment of this right is found in the U.S. Constitution (Article 1, Section 8). Several copyright acts have further refined various aspects of the original Act, but the basic premise of protecting the rights of owners of their creations remains. The intent of copyright is to advance the progress of knowledge by giving an author of a work an economic incentive to create new works. The copyright owner’s rights however, are not absolute. The rights are subject to both "Fair Use" limitations, which apply to all media, and medium-specific limitations.

The widespread adoption of digital technologies and the interconnectedness provided by global networks create new issues of definition and enforcement for copyright law. In a manner of moments, a digital photograph, song, video or text can be copied and made available to millions of people over the Internet. Copyright owners are reasonably concerned about the capability of anyone to distribute their work without obtaining prior permission or making arrangements to compensate the copyright holder for using the work. Consumers who pay for a DVD, do not accept that they are not legally allowed to make a copy of it. Moreover, some of the technologies being used to prevent such copying often interfere with the quality of usefulness of the work.

Basically, technology innovation has significantly altered the prior balance in the application of copyright law that attempted to equally weigh the rights of creators with the social benefits of allowing materials to be shared. Today, many stakeholders hold an interest in the future of copyright law, including creators, consumers, technology companies, privacy advocates, teachers, students, media companies, policymakers and many others. Changes in the law or in enforcement of the law will continue to have large effects on all of us. The following links are a few resources that can help inform you about the various issues surrounding copyright law.

Oxy Copyright LibGuide

Chilling Effects: A joint project of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, University of San Francisco, University of Maine, George Washington School of Law, and Santa Clara University School of Law clinics.

Copyright Information Center: The Copyright Information Center serves as an information clearinghouse and contains Cornell policies, general information, reference materials, and information on the University's copyright awareness and education programs.

Creative Commons: Creative Commons is a licensing system, built within current copyright law, that allows creators to share their creations with others and use music, movies, images, and text online that have been marked with a Creative Commons license.

Campus Guide to Copyright Compliance A guide designed for academic institutions to help answer copyright questions ranging from basic copyright law to the more complex topics of inter-library loan and e-reserves.

Electronic Frontier Foundation: a donor-funded nonprofit organization focused on digital rights issues

Copyright Basics - US Government Copyright Office (PDF)

Reviewed by VP/CIO Fall 2021

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