Copyright and Fair Use

What is copyright?

Copyright law gives certain exclusive rights to the author of a creative work (including, but not limited to, books, songs, movies, and plays). However, there are exceptions to these rights. This guide provides information to help NDSU students, faculty, and staff understand copyright law and exceptions to copyright law (such as fair use).

While copyright issues can be complex, everyone needs to understand the basics. Failure to comply with copyright law can lead to substantial legal penalties for both you and the university.

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 the legal right to publish and sell literary, artistic, or musical work, and copyright protects authors, publishers and produces, and the public.

Copyright applies both to traditional media (books, DVDs, etc.) and to digital media (electronic journals, web sites, etc.). Copyright protects the following eight categories of works:

  1. literary works
  2. musical works
  3. dramatic works
  4. pantomimes and choreographic works
  5. pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  6. motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  7. sound recordings
  8. architectural 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 monetary damages to the copyright owner.