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This guide lists and describes helpful resources to consider when conducting copyright law research.


Copyright law generally deals with protecting the creative output of artists, musicians, authors, and other creators. For example, copyright is what makes it illegal to post a movie to YouTube without the copyright holder’s permission. Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution (often called the “Copyright Clause” or the “Patent and Copyright Clause”) established the basis for copyright protection, giving Congress the power to “Promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” Based on the power granted by the Copyright Clause, Congress has passed and amended several statutes that define federal copyright protections. The Copyright Act of 1976 and its amendments apply to most current copyright questions, although state common law and prior federal acts may apply to older works. More specifically, the 1976 Act applies to works fixed in a tangible form after January 1, 1978, when the act took effect. Works published prior to that are governed by the Copyright Act of 1909 and state common law. For a broader introduction, we recommend Copyright in a Nutshell (available on West Academic Study Aids) or other study aids or hornbooks, available through the Law Library’s subscriptions. For more detailed questions or in-depth discussions, consult one of the treatises listed in this guide under the "Treatises" tab to the left.