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U.S. Copyright Law

About This Guide

The information contained in this LibGuide is meant to be an overview of the basic concepts and major issues faced in a higher education setting. It is not intended to be exhaustive of all aspects of U.S. copyright law, much less any applicable international laws, and does not replace legal advice from a licensed attorney. 

Key Distinctions

Intellectual property is the term used for rights – established by law – that empower creators to restrict others from using their creative works. Copyright is one type of intellectual property, but there are many others. To help understand copyright, it is important to have a basic understanding of at least two other types of intellectual property rights and the laws that protect those rights.

  1. Trademark law generally protects the public from being confused about the source of a good, service, or establishment. The holder of a trademark is generally allowed to prevent uses of its trademark by others if the public will be confused. Examples of trademarks are the golden arches used by McDonald’s, or the brand name Coca-Cola. Trademark law helps producers of goods and services protect their reputation, and it protects the public by giving them a simple way to differentiate between similar products and services.
  2. Patent law gives inventors a time-limited monopoly to their inventions — things like mouse traps or new mobile phone technology. Patents typically give inventors the exclusive right to make, have made, use, have used, offer for sale, sell, have sold, or import patentable inventions.

Other types of intellectual property rights include trade secrets, publicity rights, and moral rights as a few examples.

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