The Catholic University of America

Copyright and Digital Images


I. Basic Copyright Principles


The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) provides legal protection for authors of original works, including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and other intellectual products. An author's copyright in a work arises at the moment the work is created. Publication is not essential for copyright protection. The copyright symbol (©) is also not required for copyright protection to occur, although use of the symbol does grant certain advantages to an author in the event of litigation. An author may transfer copyright ownership to another party.

The copyright law grants the owner of a copyright the ability to control the reproduction of an original work. Note, too, that authors of works of fine art have certain other rights including the right to prevent intentional distortion, mutilation, or modification of their works. These rights are specific to the author of the work and are not transferable.

The right to control the reproduction of an original work, however, is not permanent, nor is it absolute. With certain exceptions, the term of copyright is the life of the author plus 70 years, during which time the right to control reproduction is subject to "fair use" limitations, which apply to all media, and medium-specific limitations.

Outside of these limitations, making copies without first seeking permission from the copyright owner is considered copyright infringement and is against the law.

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links updated 6/5/08 rab