Law & the Media in Texas — FOI Copyright

Freedom of Information


Copyright is the right of a writer or artist to control the reproduction of his or her creation. Protection under copyright extends to literary, musical, dramatic, pantomime, choreographic, pictorial, graphic and sculptural works, motion pictures and other audiovisual works and sound recordings. Copyright entitles the owner to control where the work is printed, sold, recorded or performed.

Copyright applies primarily to particular expression and not to information presented. An idea or topic, except when unique, cannot be protected by copyright. Facts cannot be copyrighted.

Newspaper articles may be copyrighted, but the copyright does not protect the fact or information presented, only the way in which they are presented.

In general, the law established four broad areas of fair use, and they are:

1.The purpose and character of the use

2.The nature of the copyrighted work

3. The amount used

4The effect of use on the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Fair use is intended for such purposes such as literary criticism or comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship or research.

However, fair use is quite restrictive for many multimedia educational projects. Photocopying within the fair use guidelines can be tricky. In general, teachers may photocopy limited examples from current periodicals for classroom use. But, teachers may not photocopy packets of copyrighted material without first obtaining permission.

Several excellent Internet sites are available to explain fair use and other provisions of the law. The best one is the University of Texas System Crash Course in Copyright at

The first revision of copyright law since 1909 was the Copyright Act of 1976 that went into effect on January 1, 1978. The legislation updated the concept of copyright to encompass photocopying and other technological advances.

Other changes have been made in the law since then, the most significant being the so-called Sonny Bono amendments in 1998 that extended the terms of copyright protection.

Here are the general guidelines as to the duration of copyright:

Before 1978 copyrights were for 28 years and could be renewed for 28 years. Therefore, anything in the public domain as of January 1, 1978, remains in the public domain.

Any copyright eligible for renewal in 1977 could be renewed for 67 years. Copyrights in their second term in 1977 were automatically extended so that they last for a total of 75 years.

Copyrights issued after January 1, 1978, were to subsist for life of the owner and for 50 years after. The Sonny Bono amendments extended personal copyrights to the life of the owner and 70 years. Corporately owned works for hire were extended even further.

Copyright information is available on line at

Forms for applying for copyright may be obtained from the Register of Copyrights, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20559. Two copies must be submitted with the application form and registration fee.

Or, copyright registration may be handled on line through the Copyright Office Electronic Registration, Recordation & Deposit System (CORDS) at or at the CORDS home page at

The author of a work intended for copyright should indicate the name of the copyright owner and the year of publication. This may be done with a © or with the word Copyright or both. The statement “All Rights Reserved” is a safeguard. This information may not be legally necessary, but it is a good idea.

Patents and trademarks are handled by the Commissioner of Patents. Information about patents and trademarks may be found at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on line at