Copyright is a form of protection provided by United States law (Title 17, U.S. Code) to the authors or creators of literary, dramatic, musical, artistic and other intellectual works. From the moment of the fixation of any original work in any tangible medium, the author of that work owns a "copyright" on it. This copyright gives its owner the exclusive right to, or to authorize others to:
The creator can sell or assign any of these rights to someone else, such as a publisher.
There are several categories of works which are in the public domain, meaning there are no copyright restrictions on their use.
LITS Liaisons can help you determine if a work you are interested in using might be in the public domain.
Fair Use: Fair use (Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Code) provides parameters for the legal use of copyrighted material without the permission of the copyright holder. The law mandates that four factors be considered in determining whether or not a use is fair.
Learn more about the doctrine of Fair Use and the Four Factors.
An orphan work is a copyright protected work for which rightsholders are positively indeterminate or uncontactable. Sometimes the names of the originators or rightsholders are known, yet it is impossible to contact them because additional details cannot be found. A work can become orphaned because rightsholders are unaware of their holdings, or because a person has died or a publishing (or production) company has gone out of business and establishing inheritance has proved impracticable. In other cases, diligent research fails to determine the author, creator, or originator of the work.
If your need falls outside of Fair Use, LITS encourages you to do all due diligence to determine the rights-holder. If you cannot determine the rights-holder, please seriously consider your need, possible alternative solutions, and institutional risk before proceeding. LITS Liaisons are available to help you assess your situation.