The Library supports the Copyright Policy of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a guide for faculty, students, and staff in their pursuit of scholarly work. For questions about copyright, feel free to request a consultation with the Scholarly Communications Office. Below is an overview of copyright to get you started.
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Copyright Basics

  • Copyright protects creative expression. The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the right to set copyright terms for a limited time in order to encourage the progress of science and useful arts.
    • Many different forms and media can be copyrighted, including textual works, sound recordings, music scores, software, moving pictures, and more.
    • Ideas, facts, slogans, and useful objects cannot be copyrighted.
  • Under the current law, copyright occurs as soon as creative expression is fixed in tangible form.
    • There is no need to register the copyright or to provide notice (the c in the circle).
    • Nevertheless, these formalities do have some benefits. Registration is necessary before a copyright owner can litigate for copyright infringement. Providing notice lets the world know that the owner holds the copyright and will protect it.
  • The copyright owner has six broad rights that are sometimes called the “bundle of rights.”  These are the right:
    • Of reproduction
    • To prepare derivative works
    • Of distribution
    • Of public performance
    • Of display
    • Of performance through digital audio transmission
  • The copyright holder can transfer or license one or all of these rights permanently or temporarily. A license (permission to take advantage of one of the copyright holder’s exclusive rights on a temporary basis) may be exclusive or nonexclusive.
  • Throughout the twentieth century, Congress extended the duration of copyright. When a work by an individual author is published in the U.S. today, the copyright term is 70 years plus the life of the author. For a work of corporate authorship, the copyright term is 95 years from publication or 120 years from the date when the work was created, whichever is shorter.

UNC Libraries Course Reserves

The University Libraries enable instructors to reserve materials for students in their classes. E-reserves are expected to comply with UNC’s Copyright Policy and federal law. Guidelines for following copyright when selecting e-reserve material can be found on the Course Reserves support page.

Copyright is a Type of Intellectual Property

There are three main types of intellectual property other than copyright:

  • Trademark—for the protection of marks and brands used in commerce;
  • Patents—for the protection of inventions, useful objects, and processes; and
  • Trade secrets—for the protection of confidential business information.

For more information about intellectual property law, UNC Law Library put together a detailed guide.

At UNC, the Office of Trademark Licensing and Office of Commercialization and Economic Development can help faculty, staff, and students to navigate the process of activating and managing intellectual property.