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Copyright and Plagiarism Guide for Students: What is Copyright?

A guide to give students an overview of copyright law, fair use, plagiarism, and the importance of attribution (citation).

I Thought You Needed the © for it to be Copyrighted?

Copyright symbol

In 1989 the United States joined Europe at the Berne Convention, where it was decided that registration for copyright will no longer be needed- all works of a fixed, creative manner are copyrighted automatically.  Thus, the Copyright logo © is not needed (and sometimes not used) on items that do have copyright. 


Copyright is automatically granted at the time a new work is created, including  works of literature, music, photography and images, and other creative works. Registration or attaching a copyright notice to a work is not required.

Is it Protected by Copyright or is it in the Public Domain?

The Digital Copyright Slider is a tool to help determine the copyright status of a work that is first published in the US.

What is Copyright?

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, "...copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the Unites States to the authors of original works of authorship, including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works."  The protection is available to published and unpublished works.  Copyright gives the owner the right to make copies, prepare derivatives, record and distribute, and perform or display the works in public. 

The following resources provide additional information on copyright and who can claim copyright over original works:

Copyright Is...

What Does Copyright Cover?

Under 17 USCS section 102 the following is protected:

  • Literature
  • Music and lyrics
  • Drama
  • Pantomime and dance
  • Pictures, graphics, sculpture
  • Films
  • Sound Recordings
  • Architecture
  • Software

"In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to 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 in such work."

(U.S. Copyright Office)

Golden Rule of Copyright

Assume the work is protected by copyright unless you can prove it is in public domain.

Where Credit is Due

A special thanks to Brad Matthies, Access Services & Digital Commons Librarian at Butler University, for sections of this LibGuide.

Special Thanks

A special thanks goes to Katie Hutchinson, Assistant Librarian for Archives and Special Collections, Brother Edmond Drouin Library, Walsh University for sections of this guide.