Copyright Resources: Basics

Copyright Basics

Most works are protected by copyright
Almost all creative and intellectual work is protected by copyright.  Remember that facts are not subject to copyright.

Copyright is automatic
Works do not have to have copyright notice posted or be registered in any way in order to be protected by copyright. This means that everything from a novel to a napkin doodle has full and automatic copyright protections.

Copyright lasts a long time...
Works are protected for the life of the author, plus seventy years. If a work was “made for hire [pdf]” it is protected for 95 years from publication or 120 years from the creation of the work (whichever is less). The rules are different for works made before 1978 and incredibly complicated. Try this copyright slider from the Copyright Advisory Network when in doubt.

...but not forever
Works with expired copyright pass into the public domain and are available to be used in whatever way you’d like. Also not protected by copyright are works created by the US government (and some states), facts, ideas, and methods.

A little deeper: What copyright does and doesn't protect

The rights of copyright 

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Copyright is seen as a bundle of rights.  These rights include the right to:

  • Make copies of the work
  • Distribute copies of the work (by selling, renting, lending, or giving it away)
  • Perform or display the work publicly
  • Make derivative works, like translations, adaptations, and reinterpretations

Because these rights are imagined as a bundle, the owner of the copyright can give away, sell, or otherwise license some or all of these rights to others (as when an author negotiates a contract - they may give the publisher the right to copy and distribute the work but not make future derivative works, for instance).


What Copyright Protects

Copyright only applies to the following kinds of works:

  • literary works
  • musical works, including accompanying words
  • dramatic works, including accompanying music
  • pantomimes and choreographic works
  • pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  • motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • sound recordings
  • architectural works

This list encompasses most kinds of creative or intellectual expression.  Works must also be "fixed in a tangible medium of expression".  Unfixed works like improvised music, speeches, or dances are not protected by copyright.

Remember: copyright is not designed to reward hard work but, rather, to foster creativity.  Works that took a lot of effort to put together but that don't contain original expression do not qualify for copyright protection.

What is NOT protected by copyright

  • procedures, processes, systems, methods of operation (these are protected by patents)
  • ideas, concepts, principles, or discoveries
  • titles, names, short phrases and slogans; familiar symbols or designs, mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, mere listings of ingredients or contents
  • other unoriginal or unfixed works


Compliance Statement

Portland Community College supports compliance with copyright law for the protection of the institution and of employees as both creators and users of copyright protected works.

The College requires PCC faculty, staff and students to observe federal law regarding the use of copyright protected materials. See: Copyright Law of the United States of America.

PCC retains limited liability for copyright infringement found on its domain. PCC will remove or disable materials on its domain that are identified as violating copyright by the copyright owner or his/her agent. The College will make reasonable efforts to notify the faculty, staff and or student responsible.

To promote "the progress of science and the useful arts," the college supports fair use for educational purposes as outlined in the federal Copyright Law (PL94-553) for such purposes as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research and reproduction of copyrighted materials (including multiple copies for classroom or library use).

Rev. 08-19-2010, Adopted by the PCC Copyright Committee May, 2010

Copyright Committee

Email us:[opens in new window].

The Portland Community College Copyright Committee is composed of representatives from multiple departments across the college. Its role is to assist faculty, staff and students with any issues concerning copyright. Send your questions to[opens in new window].  We'll be happy to meet one-on-one in your office or on the phone, as well.

Come to a meeting: 

The Copyright Committee meets once a term (or more often if necessary) and we welcome guests to our meetings.  Send us an email ( and we'll let you know when we're meeting.

Authorized Copyright Agent: 

Chris Chairsell, Vice President, Academic and Student Affairs

Faculty Librarian

Rachel Bridgewater

Copyright information