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Guide to Copyright

What is a copyright?

A copyright is a collection of rights that belong exclusively to the copyright owner. Copyright laws are intended to encourage the creation of new material by assuring that the work of creative individuals is protected. A copyright holder has five exclusive rights. These include the right to:
  • Reproduce the work
  • Prepare derivative works (works derived from the original work such as abridgments, translations, or other adaptations)
  • Distribute the work
  • Perform the work
  • Display the work
Just like other forms of property, only the owner or administrator of a copyright has authority to allow another person to exercise any of the owner's exclusive rights. Sometimes the owner of the copyright is the creator of the work; other times, the owner is a publisher or organization that has been assigned the rights. To determine who holds the copyright, look for the copyright notice: the word copyright (or the symbol "©" or abbreviation "copyr."), a year, and the name of the copyright owner.

The length of copyright protection varies according to when the work was created. While specific circumstances determine the exact duration of the copyright, works created:
  • Prior to 1978 may be protected for 95 years.
  • In 1978 or later generally are protected for the author's lifetime plus 70 years.
Works that are not protected by copyright are said to be in the "public domain."

Churches, schools, and other organizations are not exempt from the copyright law. Nonprofit status does not exempt an organization from following the copyright law.

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