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Copyright Law

A description of Copyright Law in the United States

Copyright Law Definition

Copyright refers to a person’s right to copy the work that was created.  In order to be applied under copyright law, works need to be tangible and creative.  To use a copyrighted work, a person would have to purchase the item or a license of the item, receive permission from the copyright owner, use the work that corresponds with the Fair Use Doctrine, or use the work in an educational setting that corresponds with the TEACH Act. 

Purchasing a copyrighted work

If you purchase a copyrighted work (hard copy), you are allowed to lend or sell the item since you have purchased it.  Digital copies are another topic.  Typically, you purchase a license to the product and are much more limited in what you can do with the digital copy.  For example, digital copies may have limitations and you typically cannot give a digital copy to someone else. 

First Sale Doctrine

Codified at 17 U.S.C. § 109, provides that an individual who knowingly purchases a copy of a copyrighted work from the copyright holder receives the right to sell, display or otherwise dispose of that particular copy, notwithstanding the interests of the copyright owner.


The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA, was an update to Copyright Law in order to adjust to digital works.  The ALA (American Library Association) considers the Act to be favorably tilted towards copyright holders. Basically, the DMCA gives more control to the copyright holder in terms of use of the content and limits use of the Fair Use Doctrine on works.