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What is copyright?

US Copyright law gives the creator of a work a number of exclusive rights "to promote the Progress of Science and the Useful Arts (US Constitution, Article 1, Section 8). Copyright protection must contain three elements: the work is original, minimally creative, and  fixed in a tangible format. Examples of works that fall under copyright protection include written works like books and articles,  audio recordings, images, art works, motion pictures, and choreography. However, copyright does not include objects with a useful functionality like industrial design, lists, clothing, or recipes. It also does not include works by the federal government or federal and state laws. Copyright protection has a fixed term (at present 70 years after the death of the author or 120 years in the case of works created for hire by a corporation), but there are exceptions to these rules. At the end of the term, the work enters the public domain and can be freely used without license or permission.


What is fair use?

In certain circumstances, limited amounts of copyrighted material can be used without infringing on the rights of the creator of a work. For a use to be considered fair use, 4 factors have to be assessed to determine if the use is eligible:

  1. Purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  2. Nature of the copyrighted work
  3. Amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.
  4. Effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

A fifth factor is often included in this assessment: does the use "transform" the work in a significant way by adding something new or giving a further purpose. Slides for lectures, illustrations to articles,  and parodies are generally thought to be transformative uses.

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