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Resources to navigate throughout your career


When you began your career at Penn State, you read through an abbreviated version of Penn State AD20 at some Signature Station and signed off to activate your Access Account.  What you may have forgotten is that part of that Administrative Policy deals with your responsibilities in the use and distribution of copyrighted works.  The Penn State community is reminded regularly to comply with the Copyright statutes in all our academic endeavors.

Our professional life essentially begins with medical or graduate school, and our discussion of copyright must go beyond downloading music and movies, etc.  If interested, that information can be found at the Penn State Copyright Portal.  As scholars and researchers, we are both creators and users of copyrighted works on a daily basis.  You may be surprised at how often copyright impacts our work.  We need a basic understanding of these laws to be good citizens as well as smart consumers.

The purpose of this guide is to bring to your attention the various copyright issues you will encounter as clinical and basic scientists, and to provide easy access to some of the available resources you will find useful. There are links to Penn State websites as well as other sources. Please suggest additions/changes, and contact us if you have questions or need assistance.

Copyright Basics

How Long Does Copyright Last?

The duration of copyright protection has changed over time.  The only definitive answer available is that any pre-1923 work published in the U.S. can be used freely because copyright has expired and it is now in the public domain.  All others may be subject to laws from other countries, potential extensions, and the original date of publication.  A detailed guide is provided by Cornell University for your reference.

Copyright Owners' Exclusive Rights

For the duration of the copyright term, copyright owners has the exclusive right to COPY/REPRODUCE, DISTRIBUTE, ADAPT, DISPLAY and PERFORM their work. They are also able to grant these rights to other individuals or entities on their terms and thereby profit from their creation of these works.

Public Domain

Works in the Public Domain are not copyright protected and you are free to use them.  These include publications with expired copyright terms, U.S. Government publications (note that state government publications are not always in the public domain), and works that are not eligible for copyright protection.

What is Copyright?

The Copyright legislation in the United States is derived from the British legal system. Copyright protection provides the creator of a work certain exclusive rights for a limited time as a reward, but also makes the work available for public use after this defined time period so that society may benefit from it. The purpose of this law is "To Promote the Progress of Science and Useful Arts .....".

As a result of the U.S. Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988, copyright eligible works are automatically protected. This means that in order for a work to be protected, it must be "original" and it must be "fixed in a tangible medium". With developing technology, the medium can range from paper to email to any memory device imaginable, but does not exclude anything as simple as a napkin.

Works that can be Copyrighted

A variety of original or creative works can be covered by copyright protection.  They include the following types of works (including examples):

  •       Words - Literary, Scientific, Dramatic
  •       Art - Paintings, Sculpture, Photography
  •       Music - Scores, Recordings
  •       Movement - Dance (choreography), Movies
  •       Design - Architecture, Fashion, Software

Copyright does NOT cover the following:

  •       Data - Research findings, Telephone  numbers
  •       Facts - 2+2=4
  •       Ideas - Watch what you share!!