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Copyright: Copyright Definitions

Important terms

The following are brief definitions of terms related to copyright or other forms of intellectual property. Many of these terms are discussed in greater detail in other tabs contained in this guide.

Copyright- Provides authors of “original works of authorship” the exclusive right to reproduce, prepare derivative works, distribute, perform, or display their works.

Copyright Registration- A legal formality that creates a public record of the facts of a particular copyright. Registration is not required for copyright protection. However, it does provide some advantages/benefits to the copyright holder. For information about registering a copyright, see the U.S. Copyright Office webpage

Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)- This Act implements two 1996 World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaties and addresses other copyright issues related to the digital age. For a more complete summary of the law see the U.S. Copyright Office Summary (PDF)

Fair Use- An exception under copyright law that allows use of a copyrighted work without first obtaining permission from the copyright owner. 17 U.S.C. section 107 lists teaching, scholarship or research as examples of purposes that might justify use without the owner's permission. See the Fair Use tab for more information

First Sale Doctrine- Purchasing and owning a copy of an item such as a book, painting, DVD or CD is not the same as owning the copyright to the work embedded in a particular medium. Under section 109 of the Copyright Act, also known as the First Sale Doctrine, the owner of a physical copy of a copyrighted protected work may use, lend, resell or dispose of that item. However, the owner of the copy cannot reproduce, distribute, publicly display or perform that work. Properly citing or attributing the work to its author does not address the need to obtain permission from the copyright owner before engaging in any acts reserved for copyright owners. The copyright owner is not necessarily the author of the work.

Patent – A patent protects an invention and grants the patent holder the right to “exclude others from making, using offering for sale, or selling” the invention in the U.S. or importing the invention to the U.S.  For more information about patents, see the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office webpage

Public Domain- The public domain encompasses all works that are either no longer copyright protected or never were copyright protected.

Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization Act (TEACH Act)- This law expands the scope of an educator's right to use copyrighted materials without permission for distance education purposes.

Trademark or Servicemark- A trademark is a word, name, symbol or device used in trade with goods to indicate the source of the goods and to distinguish them from the goods of others. A servicemark is similar to a trademark, but it identifies the source of a service rather than a product. For more information about trademarks and servicemarks, see the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office webpage

Transformative Use- This is an important term in some Fair Use court decisions. Courts have supported a Fair Use analysis in cases where the use "adds something new, with a further purpose of different character, altering the first with new expression, meaning or message." (Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, 510 U.S. 569, 579 (1994).