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About This Guide

This resource is designed to guide you through the process of using copyrighted material in instruction activities or with your own works -- no matter the format of the works:  written, multimedia, websites, etc.  Each tab in this guide represents a step to take in helping you to determine how to handle your use of work that may be protected by copyright.  It serves as a supplement to Baylor University's copyright policy and copyright website.  

This guide is based on content developed by Kevin Smith, Lisa Macklin, and Anne Gilliland for the online course, "Copyright for Librarians and Educators", as well as their guide "A Framework for Analyzing Any Copyright Problem".  Their content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.  Therefore, the content of this research guide is also governed by a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.  

If you need assistance with resolving copyright issues, send an e-mail message to or contact Billie Peterson-Lugo, directly.

Copyright Basics

Copyright in the United States finds its roots in the US Constitution, Article I, Section 8:  “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”  

To be protected by US copyright the work must:

  • be fixed in a tangible form
  • have a modicum of creativity

Section 106 of the Copyright law lists the bundle of rights that define copyright protection, which are the right to:

  1. make copies;
  2. make derivative works;
  3. distribute copies;
  4. perform works publicly;
  5. display works publicly; and
  6. perform works (sound recordings) publicly by means of a digital audio transmission -- a specific right that refers to the transmission of music via the Internet.

If the use of a copyrighted work does not involve one of the above rights, then no infringement takes place.  For example, downloading the PDF of an article available from one of the library's databases and distributing the PDF to each student in a class potentially infringes on 2 of these rights: making copies and distributing.  However, sending the students a link to the PDF in the database does not infringe on any of these rights, although the use of the link might be governed by a license agreement with the database provider.

Under current US copyright law, no formalities -- publication, registration, copyright notice (©), or other action -- are required to secure copyright. Copyright is secured automatically when the work is fixed in a copy or phonorecord for the first time. ( Consequently -- print works, multimedia works, digital works, etc. -- are automatically protected by copyright.

Copyright applies to the following materials ( 

  1. literary works
  2. musical works, including any accompanying words
  3. dramatic works, including any accompanying music
  4. pantomimes and choreographic works
  5. pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  6. motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  7. sound recordings
  8. architectural works

Copyright does not apply to the following, although other intellecutal property law (patents and trademarks) may apply  (

  • titles, names, short phrases and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere listings of ingredients
  • ideas, procedures, methods systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices
  • works consisting entirely of information that is common property and containing no original authorship

Ideas cannot be protected by copyright; however, the expression of ideas is protected by copyright.

Copyright exists for a limited period of time:

  • Life of the author + 70 years
  • Works Made for Hire
    • 95 years from the date of publication or
    • 120 years from the date of creation, whichever expires first



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