Skip to main content

Copyright: Copyright Basics

Information about copyright and how it affects your teaching, research, and learning at Davidson

Did you know?

A work doesn't have to be published to be copyrighted.  In fact, works created today have long copyright terms, even if they aren't published!

Learn more about copyright


This site is intended for informational purposes only.  Library staff members cannot give legal advice.  For legal advice, you should contact an intellectual property attorney.


Copyright is a set of rights that protects the works of authors, artists, composers, and others from being used by other people without permission.  It is articulated in the United States Constitution and ensured by Title 17 of the U.S. Code.

Copyright guarantees that the owner of a copyrighted work has the exclusive right to reproduce it, distribute it, perform it publicly, and prepare derivative works based upon it.  According to the U.S. Constitution, copyright is not only for the protection of creators; it is also designed to "promote the progress of science and useful arts" (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8).

Remember that copyright is not unlimited.  Just because something is copyrighted doesn't mean you can't use it.  You are not infringing on copyright if:

  • You have express permission from the copyright owner;
  • The work you are using is in the public domain;
  • What you are doing is considered fair use;
  • You have an implied license; or
  • The work you are using is an idea, fact, or data.

When you should think about copyright

Since many items created in the United States have automatic copyright protection, you should be aware of copyright every time you use materials created by someone else.  Here are some examples:

  • Posting materials in Moodle
  • Providing course reserves to students
  • Giving handouts to students in a class
  • Sharing an article via email with colleagues, family, and friends
  • Distributing copies of an article at a meeting
  • Putting an image into a paper or presentation
  • Posting an image or article on a blog or website
  • Showing a video to a class or other campus group
  • Printing an item in an anthology

Remember:  you can use something for educational purposes and still be in violation of the law! 

What's protected by copyright

According to copyright law, "original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression" are eligible for copyright protection, whether or not they are published. These include:

  • Literary works
  • Musical works, including accompanying lyrics
  • Dramatic works, including any accompanying music
  • Pantomime and choreography
  • Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  • Motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • Sound recordings
  • Architectural works
  • Web pages
  • Software code
  • ...among others!

What's not protected by copyright

Works that are not fixed in a "tangible medium of expression" and/or have no original authorship cannot be copyrighted. These include:

  • Ideas and facts
  • Titles, names, and slogans

Although these may not be eligible for copyright, they may be protected by other forms of intellectual property law, like trademarks and patents.

Questions? Need help? Ask a Librarian
Davidson College Library, Box 7200, 209 Ridge Rd., Davidson, NC 28035-7200
Creative Commons license logo for CC by-sa 4.0
This Davidson College Library Research Guides are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
All box-title icons from Entypo pictograms by Daniel Bruce —