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Copyright: Copyright Basics

This guide is a copyright and 508/ADA compliance resource for APUS faculty and students.

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Copyright at a Glance

Title 17, United States Code:

  • Copyright is a form of protection provided by US law to the authors of original intellectual works. This includes literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and other creative works.
  • Copyright owners have exclusive rights to authorize reproduction of their work, sale or distribution or their work, and public display or performance of their work.
  • According to the Berne Convention, Copyright is obtained merely by putting a creative work in a tangible form. An author does not need to obtain official federal copyright to own the rights to their work. 

The following are examples of copyrightable works:

  • Literary works
  • Musical works, including lyrics
  • Dramatic works, including musical accompaniment
  • Visual arts, both two and three dimensional works
  • Audiovisual works, including motion pictures
  • Sound recordings
  • Architectural works, including drawings and plans

The following are examples of types of creative works that are NOT protected by copyright:

  • Works not fixed in a tangible form (ex. improvisational performances that have not been recorded)
  • Titles, short phrases, slogans (may be protected under trademark law)
  • Ideas and concepts
  • Works consisting of information that is common property (ex. data)
  • Works in the Public Domain

Readings in the Classroom

Open Web Materials

  • Materials provided via the open web should be linked to that website.
  • Do not copy and paste online readings into word documents or save .pdfs that are then uploaded into the classroom.
  • Linking to material on the open web is almost always acceptable. Link to material whenever possible.
Materials from the Richard G. Trefry Library or APUS Article Database
  • All materials licensed by the university should be linked to the Richard G. Trefry Library or the APUS Article Database.
  • Please do not save copies of Library materials and then upload files into the classroom.
  • If you need assistance creating links to materials in the Richard G. Trefry Library, please contact


Images in the Classroom

  • All images, be they photographs, drawings, or graphic designs, are protected under copyright law. Just because it is available on the open web, doesn’t mean we can legally reproduce it in our classroom.
  • Keep in mind that a work is only copyrighted if it displays sufficient human creativity.
  • Photographs of artworks created before January 1, 1923 are often not protected by copyright, as these do not show sufficient human creativity, and the artwork itself is in the Public Domain. However, if a photograph of a painting  or sculpture can be considered artistically distinctive in some way, it may be protected under copyright law.


Audio and Video Recordings in the Classroom

  • When using a video from any outside source; even YouTube, it is important to either provide a link to the video, or use the embed code provided by YouTube.
  • Why? YouTube and other streaming media services police their content for copyright infringement. Infringing material is removed every day, and linking/using the embed code ensures that APUS classrooms are not:
  1. infringing on the rights of the YouTube account holder.
  2. housing a video that infringes on someone else’s copyright (ex. a YouTube clip of a film or television show)
  • Video-sharing sites like YouTube have ever-changing policies regarding copyright, so it is best that we continue to link to videos in their original setting.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 provides more specific information regarding multimedia materials on the open web.

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