Copyright Conundrums: Understanding How Copyright Works

Copyright-Conundrums-bannerLast month we shared with you some basics about U.S. copyright law. Today we’re continuing to answer some of your frequently asked copyright questions in this month’s edition of Copyright Conundrums. We’re going over some more basics to help you better understand just how copyright works.

Q: How does copyright work?

A: Copyright owners have an exclusive right to their work, with some exceptions (see below). Before we use work protected by someone else’s exclusive right, we must obtain the owner’s permission (a “license” in legalese; we’ll be covering permissions in a future edition of Copyright Conundrums).  When permission is given the copyright owner is granting a license to exercise the copyright owner’s exclusive rights.

Q: Are copyrights unlimited?

A: Copyrights are not unlimited. Copyright law does allow for the fair use of any work for educational, scholarly, and informational purposes, which promotes the sharing of information and ideas. Other exceptions may also apply (see below). Copyrights are also not unlimited when it comes to duration; in the U.S., your copyright is in effect for 70 years after your death (this can vary in other countries).

Q: What does my copyright allow me to do?

A:  A copyright owner has the exclusive rights to do or to license others to do any of the following:

  • reproduce or make copies of their work
  • prepare derivative works based on their work
  • sell, rent, or lease copies of their work
  • perform their work publicly
  • display their work publicly (e.g., images, videos)
  • perform their work by a digital audio transmission (g., sound recordings)


Q: What are some exceptions to copyright?

A: There are several exceptions to copyright, including:

(1) Face-to-face Teaching:

  • Pursuant to United States Code, Title 17, Section 110(1), members of the University of Central Florida community may publicly display and perform the copyrighted works of other people during face-to-face teaching activities*
  • Basically, U.S. copyright law allows for performance and display of any kind of copyrighted work, and even a complete work, as part of face-to-face instruction

*From: Use of Copyrighted Material, UCF Vice President and General Counsel’s office; Available:

  • Here is what Title 17, Section 110(1) states:

The following are NOT infringements of copyright:

  • (1) performance or display of a work by instructors or pupils in the course of face-to-face teaching activities of a nonprofit educational institution, in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction, unless, in the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, the performance, or the display of individual images, is given by means of a copy that was not lawfully made under this title, and that the person responsible for the performance knew or had reason to believe was not lawfully made;
  • From:


(2) Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization Act of 2002 (“TEACH”) Act:

  • certain transmissions of copyrighted works in distance education are permitted (subject to certain, VERY specific limitations)
  • this is a very specific exception in U.S. copyright law that’s intended to facilitate online teaching
  • Read more here:


(3) Fair Use:

  • As explained above, copyright law does allow for the fair use of any work for educational, scholarly, and informational purposes in order to promote the sharing of information and ideas
  • We will be discussing Fair Use in detail in a future installment of Copyright Conundrums

Stay tuned next month for more answers to your copyright questions. Remember, the information provided here does not constitute legal advice and should not substitute for actual legal advice. For more copyright information, please see the copyright guide provided by UCF’s John C. Hitt Library, which contains links to copyright policies from the UCF Office of the General Counsel, or

One thought on “Copyright Conundrums: Understanding How Copyright Works

  1. Pingback: Copyright Conundrums: Author Rights | Harriet F. Ginsburg Health Sciences Library

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