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Copyright Toolkit

Copyright Law & Purpose

Copyright exits for more reasons than to protect the interests of authors/creators. It is also meant as a means to promote "the progress of science and the useful arts—that is—knowledge." It also provides a trade off on how the material can be used. For a certain length of time the creator gains a monopoly/ownership of exclusive rights. After this time the content is moved into the public domain. Copyright seeks to create a balance between creator and public.

  • The authority to establish Copyright Law comes from the U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 8. When reading about copyright a variation of the phrase, "“promote the progress of science and useful arts” is often used.
  • Copyright law makes no requirement of creators to make their words available to the public. An unpublished work receives the same copyright protections as any published work.

Works Not Protected By Copyright

From "Works Not Protected by Copyright"

Copyright law expressly excludes copyright protection for “any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied.” The Office may, however, register a literary, graphic, or artis- tic description, explanation, or illustration of an idea, proce- dure, process, system, or method of operation, provided that the work contains a sufficient amount of original authorship. However, copyright protection will extend only to the origi- nal expression in that work and not to the underlying idea, methods, or systems described or explained.

Additional information about what Works Not Protected by Copyright can be found at They list and go into greater detail on why these works, such as the ones listed below, are not eligible for copyright.

  • Names, titles, and short phrases
  • Typeface, fonts, and lettering
  • Blank forms
  • Familiar symbols and designs

Protecting IP without copyright

There are other methods of securing rights to works by pursuing patents or trademarks. Trademark protections may protect a slogan or a process you created could be a patentable subject matter. Patents are available to allow inventors "to control the manufacture, use and sale of their inventions."

Between Copyright, Patent, and Trademarks a creator has several options of protecting their Intellectual Property. More information about the differences of these options can be found here.

Copyright Protections

The U.S. Copyright Office States that, "Copyright exists automatically in an original work of authorship once it is fixed in a tangible medium." So as soon as your story/creation is typed or written on a piece of paper that would be considered "captured in a Sufficiently permanent medium such that the work can be perceived, reproduced, or communicated for more than a short time" and your work has copyright protections.

Registering your work has many benefits, such as legal protections, so registering is strongly recommended. The Copyright Alliance lists these reasons for registering and how it gives you stronger rights.

Public Domain

As defined by Wikipedia: "public domain consists of all the creative work to which no exclusive intellectual property rights apply. Those rights may have expired,[1] been forfeited,[2] expressly waived, or may be inapplicable."
All of this matters because public domain works are essential in preserving history and leads to innovation and creations of new works. Public Domain works allow everyone to use them without an additional expense, or lower expenses, in resources. Examples of this include:
  • for a publisher to produce special low-cost editions of a book in the public domain
  • a songwriter to parody a well-known ballad without fear of being sued
  • a teacher to distribute copies of a poem for students in their class
  • for a library to digitise a set of public domain photographs for their online local history exhibition

Fun Fact: Snow White



Snow White Public Domain Image, not from Disney movie.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) produced by Walt Disney Productions, was the first animated feature to become widely successful within the English speaking world and was therefore intrinsic to the company’s success.

Exceptions and Limitations to Copyright

Fortunately copyright is not absolute and some uses are permitted in dealing with copyrighted materials. These uses are limitations on the exclusive rights normally granted to copyright holders and are known as “exceptions and limitations” to copyright.
Legislatures, fortunately, saw that the restricting all uses of works could lead to several issues. How would scholars would not able to write about "books, movies or other art without quoting from them?" Questions such as this led to the Berne Convention and thus a three step test was adopted:

  • It shall be a matter for legislation in the countries of the Union to permit the reproduction of such works in certain special cases, provided that such reproduction does not conflict with a normal exploitation of the work and does not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the author. (emphasis supplied) Article 9(2)

Bonus Video: A Fair(y) Use Tale


The Purpose of Copyright
Purpose of copyright law: Morris Library: SIU. Morris Library. (n.d.). Retrieved October 7, 2022, from
What is the purpose of copyright law. Copyright Alliance. (2022, June 2). Retrieved October 7, 2022, from

Works not Protected by Copyright
What does copyright protect? What Does Copyright Protect? (FAQ) | U.S. Copyright Office. (n.d.). Retrieved October 7, 2022, from

Protecting IP without copyright
What's not protected by copyright law. Copyright Alliance. (2022, June 2). Retrieved October 7, 2022, from
Peek, S. (2020, January 13). Intellectual property: Patent, copyright and trademark laws. Retrieved October 7, 2022, from

Copyright Protections
Circular 1 copyright basics. (n.d.). Retrieved October 7, 2022, from

Public Domain
The public domain – why WIPO should care (2007). IFLA. (n.d.). Retrieved October 7, 2022, from

Fun Fact: Snow White
The public domain – why WIPO should care (2007). IFLA. (n.d.). Retrieved October 7, 2022, from

Exceptions and Limitations to Copyright
Commons, C. (n.d.). 2.4 exceptions and limitations to copyright. 2.4 Exceptions and Limitations to Copyright | Creative Commons Certificate for Educators, Academic Librarians and GLAM. Retrieved October 7, 2022, from

"Copyright Law & Purpose" by Todd Jensen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.