& Intellectual Property

Copyrighted Materials

Information today flows faster and more freely than ever thanks to advances in libraries and other technologies. While accessing all this information on and beyond the Internet, you should always be mindful of where content originates, who might actually own the content, and what the terms are for you to access and use that content.

Aside from times you need to cite sources for research purposes, there may be times you may need to work with information in ways that require written permission from copyright holders before you proceed.

The "Public Domain"

Copyrights exist to protect the intellectual property of authors, artists, and musicians, and they remain in effect for many decades. In the United States, copyright law is defined under Title 17 of the United States Code, which contains America's federal laws. Copyrights are often denoted by the © symbol, although the absence of such a symbol or copyright statement is not necessarily indicative that something is "in the public domain."

Things definitively designated as "public domain" are considered to be the property of the public, available to anyone to use as they wish. Such works are no longer protected by copyright.

Trademarks & Patents

Copyrights pertain to certain creations. There are other ways ideas and inventions are protected through such things as trademarks and patents. The United States Patent and Trade Office issues trademarks and patents. Like copyrights, patents and trademarks provide legal protection to items and processes that fall under their legal domain.

Intellecutal Property

There is also the worldwide concept of intellectual property (IP) – who owns an item. To learn more about IP, visit the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) website and follow their link (under) entitled "What is IP?"

"Fair Use"

Certain very limited uses of a copyrighted work are sometimes permitted under the provision of Fair Use, which is when a work may be partially referenced for very specific educational purposes, such as in a classroom or in research. You cannot claim to use the "Fair Use" provision to avoid copyright law and make one or more copies of something. Determine the copyright status of an item before doing anything.

Determine the Status!

How do you find out about the copyright status of a particular item? When at a website, look for links (sometimes located at the bottom of a web page) such as "Copyright," "Licensing," "Terms of Service" or "Usage Guidelines." If a specific answer to your question is unavailable, you should contact the publisher of the content in question to learn if there are any restrictions placed on the content being made available.

When in doubt, ask! If you download or use the content in any way the provider did not intend, you might run the risk of copyright infringement, which means, among other things, unauthorized use of content and a violation of the rights of the copyright owner. This is a serious offense. Before downloading, copying, or sharing files, creating derivative works, or doing anything else with content in any form, clear your intentions with the copyright owner(s) or you may face legal fees and prosecution.

Other Licensing Models

Some items on the Internet are released under difference licenses. For example, there is the Copyleft / GNU Public License (GPL) at that is often used by "open source" software authors, who make their programs available along with the source code that makes those programs work.

Another example is the Creative Commons Licensing (CC) agreement (at, and many other forms of licensing agreements set up by individuals, companies, and organizations around the world.

"Licensing" modules determine the terms under which you may (or may not) access or use an item. Some "licensing agreements" require payment, and some might restrict you in very specific ways. Many files, such as eBooks (electronic books) and music files, make use of Digital Rights Management (DRM), which use software to limit how any given text is stored, displayed, used - and for how long.

For More Information...

To learn more about copyright law and procedures, visit Books on all the topics mentioned here should be available at your local library. Members of Thrall or other RCLS libraries can click on any of the following subjects to explore related topics in the library system catalog:

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