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Student Copyright Guide: Copyright Basics

This guide is an overview of copyright law, terms, and practices.

What is Copyright?

Copyright protects original works and intellectual property. A work does not have to be published or registered to be protected—copyright automatically applies as soon as the work is created/expressed in a fixed or tangible way. Copyright laws give creators/authors the exclusive right to reproduce, sell, and publish their works.

Copyright is signified with the symbol "©," although works do not require the display of the symbol to be protected.

Generally, copyright lasts during the entirety of the author’s life, plus 70 years after their death. When it expires, the works enter the public domain.

The basis for copyright comes from Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 in the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress the ability “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

What is Protected?

Copyright protects works in the following categories:

  • Literary works
  • Musical works
  • Dramatic works
  • Choreographic works/pantomimes
  • Artistic works (pictures, graphics, sculptures, computer software, etc.)
  • Audiovisual works (motion pictures, movies, etc.)
  • Sound recordings
  • Architectural works


This guide is an overview of basic copyright principles meant for students. It is not meant to be comprehensive or to substitute for legal advice.

What is Not Protected?

Copyright does not protect the following, although the full list is not limited to these examples:

  • Facts
  • Ideas, concepts, or discoveries
  • Systems or processes
  • Common symbols
  • Titles of books/movies/etc.
  • Slogans, phrases, names (could fall under trademark protection)
  • Works created by the U.S. Government
  • Works in the public domain

Copyright Law

More information on United States copyright law can be found in Title 17 of the United States Code

Kutztown University follows the law specified in this code when applicable.

This guide was created by Sarah Schaffer, Class of 2020, as a Professional Writing internship project for the Rohrbach Library.