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Copyright Law

United States Constitution

See Article 1, Section 8 (Scope of Legislative Power) for the foundation of copyright in the U.S.: ” 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.”

United States Copyright Act, 1976, Title 17, US Code

The act covers copyright, fair use, and library and archival reproduction rights for materials such as print; pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works; sound recordings; musical works; negotiated licenses for public performances; computer programs; broadcasting; home viewing; architectural works; reproductions for those with disabilities; and secondary transmissions by satellite carriers.

The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act

Signed into law in 1998, this act extended the term of copyright to life of the author plus seventy (70) years or ninety-five (95) years for a “work for hire.”

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 [DMCA]

The law is divided into five titles:

  • Title I implements two 1996 World Intellectual Property Organization treaties: the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty.
  • Title II is the “Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act.”
  • Title III is the “Computer Maintenance Competition Assurance Act.”
  • Title IV contains six miscellaneous provisions relating to the functions of the Copyright Office, distance education, exceptions for libraries, webcasting sound recordings on the Internet, and the applicability of collective bargaining agreement obligations in the case of transfers of rights in motion pictures.
  • Title V is the “Vessel Hull Design Protection Act.”

Of particular note for the impact on “fair use” is Section 1201 which proscribes devices or services in the following categories:

  • they are primarily designed or produced to circumvent;
  • they have only limited commercially significant purpose or use other than to circumvent; or
  • they are marketed for use in circumventing.

The Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization (TEACH) Act

The Act was appended to Public Law 107-273 (scroll to the end of the document entitled ” 21st Century Department of Justice Appropriations Authorization Act”). The TEACH Act itself eases the restrictions on not-for-profit institutions of higher learning, enabling them to transmit “limited and reasonable” portions of videos and other AV works under the supervision of a college instructor over a secure system accessible by enrolled students only. This facilitates distance learning in particular. A brief practical description and handy checklist can be found on the University of Texas’ intellectual property page. A comprehensive interpretation of the act can be found at North Carolina State University’s TEACH Toolkit. Technological Requirements of the TEACH Act can be found in this document (.pdf) from the American Library Association’s web site.

Last Updated 06.20.12

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