Copyright is a limited set of rights granted to authors, artists, and other creators of intellectual works to control the reproduction, creation of derivatives, distribution, performance, or display of those works. Copyright owners may transfer all or some of these rights to someone else, either temporarily or permanently.

Most intellectual works are protected by copyright, including books, articles, images, music, software, and architecture, even if these works do not display a copyright statement or symbol. The purpose of copyright is to benefit society by encouraging people to create and share scientific and cultural works.

Public Domain

While copyright protection last for many years, it eventually expires and previously protected works enter the public domain. Works in the public domain can be used without the permission of the creator. Some works are always in the public domain, such as certain U.S. government publications; however, the copyright status of state government documents varies by state. Ideas, facts, discoveries, and methods are not protected by copyright.

Fair Use

Although copyright owners have the right to control the use of their works, copyright law also allows libraries and classroom teachers to use copyrighted works in specific ways. Other uses of copyrighted works, such as quoting or commenting on a work in a research paper, are considered "fair use" and do not require the copyright holder’s permission.

Some applications of fair use require an analysis based on four factors outlined in copyright law:

  • the purpose of the use
  • the nature of the use
  • the amount of the work that is used
  • the impact of the use on the market for the work.

Permission for Use

The copyright holder may also grant permission for use of the work, either directly or through an agent such as the Copyright Clearance Center.

UNH Resources

Other Resources