As stated in the previous section, copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States to the authors of original works, including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works. The most recent comprehensive law, the Copyright Act of 1976, generally gives the owner of a copyright the exclusive rights to the work.
How long does copyright protection last? The term of copyright for a particular work depends on several factors, including whether it has been published, and, if so, the date it was first published. As an example, works created on or after January 1, 1978, are automatically protected for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. When the time has expired for a work to be protected by copyright law, it is in the public domain.
Most library staff won't need to know the time limits for copyright, but it can be helpful to know they exist and where to find the information. For more information about copyright, go to Copyright Basics and Frequently Asked Questions About Copyright. Both can be found on the U. S. Copyright Office web site at www.loc.gov/copyright. In addition, a useful chart that shows at a glance what is protected by copyright is When Works Pass Into the Public Domain, by Lolly Gasaway of the University of North Carolina, www.unc.edu/~unclng/public-d.htm.
While it is illegal to violate copyright law, there are some exemptions from copyright liability. One exemption is the doctrine of "fair use". This is the section of the copyright law that has the most effect on libraries. Libraries are legally and ethically bound to abide by the fair use guidelines.
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