What is Copyright?
Copyright is a set of laws and regulations governing the production and distribution of created works.
Why does it matter?
Copyright laws ensure that the creators of works including fiction, drama, art, music, film, and scholarly research are properly attributed for their work and justly compensated.
In the realm of scholarly research, copyright helps readers and users to evaluate the authority of an article, book, or report. By ensuring that the authors are properly credited, and that the work is not being re-used without attribution by others, students and other scholars can more accurately determine if the content they read is correct, and determine its importance to the wider scholarly conversation.
Find details of the law using the links below
How long does copyright last?
This depends on when the work was created. The United States copyright code has changed several times. However, most works created since 1978 retain their copyright for 70 years after the death of the author.
Check out this copyright slider [link will open in a new window] from the American Library Association for help with questions of duration.
What is "Public Domain"?
After a copyright has expired, a work enters the public domain, which means you may share, reproduce, or even modify or adapt a work without first seeking permission.
Some works, such as United States federal government publications, enter the public domain automatically upon publication.
Why does the Library get to share books that are copyrighted?
The Library operates under a clause of the Copyright law known as First Sale. Once an individual or group has purchased a work, they may share or dispose of it however they wish, including lending it to an individual or donating it to a used book store. However, libraries are limited into what we may do with a copyrighted work once we've purchased it, including barring us from transforming it into another format through photocopies, scanning, or otherwise digitizing.
First Sale does NOT mean that a library may:
Created by Amy Hofer for Portland State University
This guide is not intended to replace the advice of legal counsel. The content of this guide is meant to be informative, but does not constitute legal advice.
If you have further questions about copyright in your specific situation, please seek appropriate legal counsel.