Copyright pertains to a property right given to an author/creator that allows them to control, protect, and disseminate their artistic works. Authorship must be performed by a human being and does not include that which was produced by nature, animals, or plants.
Statutory basis for copyright is found within Title 17 of the United States Code (U.S.C.). However, be aware that interpretation of the code provisions as they relate to copyright can vary by judicial circuit. Additional information on copyright law is provided by the United States Copyright Office through publications, "circulars", about copyright law. These can be found at https://www.copyright.gov/circs/.
The primary objective of copyright is not to reward the labor of authors, but "to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts" as illustrated by the case of Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co. (U.S. 1991). Thus in certain situations and settings it is permissible that the creative work by an author/creator can be used by others without compensation.
Additional information on copyright can be found at the Copyright.gov page Frequently Asked Questions about Copyright.
Information on intellectual property can be found in the UCM Board of Governors Intellectual Property Rights Policy
There are a number of rights that an author/creator has over their created work. Rather than visualizing copyright as one single right, it is helpful to envision these rights as a bundle of rights that are interconnected with each other.
Copyright provides the author/creator with the right to:
Interestingly, copyright not only bestows the above rights to the author/creator it also allows the author/creator the right to authorize others to exercise those same rights, typically through licenses, but subject to certain statutory limitations.
This information can be found within title 17 U.S.C. § 106
Within 17 U.S.C. § 102 there are a total of eight categories that constitute works of authorship:
Notably, copyright protects the expression of an idea, but not the idea itself. This is pretty intuitive. Copyright is designed to protect art not the idea art is based on. So, just because copyright protect the Harry Potter stores does not prevent another person from writing a completely unique story about a boy wizard using magic to fight evil. The law protect's J.K. Rowling's specific telling of that story, but not all the ideas that are contained within it.
Just remember, there is a significant distinction between plagiarism and that of copyright. Plagiarism is the failure to give proper attribution to the original work of a creator when someone is using the original creator's thoughts, words, or ideas in a secondary work. Copyright infringement is using some or all of a copyrighted work without the original creator's permission, or without an exception that allows the individual to use the work.
It it could be argued that these could overlap with each other, remember that they do not serve the same purpose. It is 100% possible to be in copyright infringement even if you properly cited the source. Conversely, the opposite is also true where just because it is permissible under copyright it may still be considered plagiarism.
The best protection in avoiding both a charge or plagiarism and/or a charge of copyright infringement is to always provide attribution for the work being used, source citation, and to also assess if you have the right to use the work under copyright law.
Some helpful sources in determining the difference between plagiarism and copyright can be found in the following post from Plagiarism Today and also within this post from Purdue University's Online Writing Lab on recognizing plagiarism. Additionally, Bill Hume, our Sciences liaison librarian at JCKL has put together an informative resource on Plagiarism.