copˇyˇright: noun: The legal right granted to an author, composer, playwright, publisher, or distributor to exclusive publication, production, sale, or distribution of a literary, musical, dramatic, or artistic work.
intellectual property: noun: A product of the intellect that has commercial value, including copyrighted property such as literary or artistic works, and ideational property, such as patents, appellations of origin, business methods, and industrial processes.
--The American HeritageŽ Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.
Copyright also extends to intellectual property in electronic form, including software, web pages, and electronic images. The United States copyright law gives the owners of copyrighted material the right to
- be compensated (paid) for the use of their property
- decide whether or how their property may be used
- deny permission to use it
- allow use of their property without compensation
If you want to use copyrighted material, you are required by law to obtain the permission of the copyright holder. There are a few exceptions:
- Most government information is not copyrighted, so you don't need permission to use it.
- Copyrighted items enter the "public domain" as their copyrights expire and can be used without permission. Copyright Term and Public Domain in the United States shows the current timetables for this.
Note that even if the original work is in the public domain, a new edition, translation, or musical arrangement of it can be copyrighted at the time it is produced.
Another important exception is "fair use," discussed in the next section.