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Copyright Info

“Copyright” is a legal right to control the

(i) copying,

(ii) distribution,

(iii) modification,

(iv) display, and

(v) performance

of certain types of works.

The types of works include creative intellectual endeavors, such as literary, artistic, and musical works, that have been “fixed” in tangible form. To “fix” them in tangible form, the creator must record them on paper, electronically, on magnetic tape, or in other physical media.

Copyright protects the expression of an idea but not the idea itself. Thus a play may not be copied or performed without the copyright owner’s permission, but the basic plot idea may be used by others if they supply their own creativity in writing new plays based on that plot.

Mere facts and single words do not qualify for copyright protection. Database or spreadsheet information often fails to qualify for copyright. The statute grants copyright to “original works of authorship” and the courts have read this to mean there must be a creative aspect. However, the courts do not require much creativity, and even simple notes or email generally qualify for copyright.

Copyright vests automatically upon creation of a work. It is owned by the author, or in some cases by the person who hires the author under a doctrine known as “work for hire.” A copyright may be “assigned” in whole or in part to another party, it may be shared by joint authors, and all or part of it may be shared and/or divided among different parties through “licenses.”

Ownership of the physical embodiment of a copyrighted work, like a book or compact disk or painting, does not include ownership of the underlying copyright.

Most email, Web pages, and computer files are copyrighted even if they do not say so. Downloading, uploading, or forwarding may infringe the rights of the copyright owner. If in doubt, ask the owner’s permission or consult with an attorney.

NC State addresses copyright ownership questions on campus through an administrative regulation on copyright at See also the policy statement on copyright infringement at

Basics of copyright law

See This Web page is provided by the United States Copyright Office.

Text of the copyright law

The text of the federal statute on copyright can be accessed at

Note: this source may not be fully updated or accurate; viewers should refer to the official published hard copy version of the United States Code for an authoritative source, along with all update publications.

Additional links

The Copyright and Digital Scholarship Center in the NC State University Libraries has additional links and information about copyright. The Center’s Web site is at