A Resource For Understanding Federal Copyright As It Applies to the Internet


Limitations on Copyrights

Duration and the Public Domain

Both the Constitution and federal law only guarantees a copyright "for limited times." The 1976 Copyright Act gives individual authors a copyright for the "life of the author" plus 70 years. [1] Once a copyright has expired, it effectively enters the "public domain," where it can be altered and used by others without requiring payment or licensing.

The Internet and the World Wide Web offer opporunities for the free exchange of information. There are few fences in cyberspace and few "no trespass" signs that protect intellectual property in the same way that real property is protected. Nevertheless, "intellectual property" on the Internet and the World Wide Web is entitled to copyright protection.

One Caveat: The Internet Is Not the Public Domain

Just because "works of art" are freely available on the Internet and just because some of these works are not accompanied by copyright symbols, the Internet is not equivalent to the public domain.As a rule of thumb, it is better to assume that all forms of expression on the Internet are copyrighted unless they are clearly and obviously known to be within the "public domain." [2]

More Information

Only particular forms of expression may be copyrighted, not methods, layouts, ideas or concepts.
Fair Use:
A "fair use" of a copyrighted work does not constitute infringement, even if such use would generally interfere with the author's rights to control distribution, reproduction, and the creation of derivative works


1.See Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. §§ 17 U.S.C. 302(a), 305.

2. See Copylaw and New Technologies. Available at <<http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/curr280c.shtml>> Last accessed, November 25, 2002


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