Article IV of the American Library Association's Code of Ethics requires that librarians "respect intellectual property rights and advocate balance between the interests of information users and rights holders."
Section 108 of the U.S. Copyright Act authorizes libraries and archives to reproduce and distribute certain copyrighted works without permission on a limited basis for the purposes of preservation, replacement, and individual research.
Please note that some library licensing agreements prohibit use that would normally be considered fair. Should you wonder whether your proposed use of content from subscription databases and online journals is prohibited by a licensing agreement, please contact Keli Rylance.
Copyright is a form of protection granted by U.S. law to the creators of “original works of authorship” including scholarly and creative works. It gives creators certain exclusive rights. Creators do not have to register their works or attach a copyright notice in order for copyright protection to apply to the works; the protection exists automatically from the time the works are created.
Intellectual Property (IP) refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce. IP is protected in law by, for example, patents, copyright and trademarks, which enable people to earn recognition or financial benefit from what they invent or create.
Several international treaties set standards that all participating countries must follow when adopting or changing their copyright laws. However, within those limits, each nation sets its own laws. Those laws determine who can acquire a copyright, what rights the copyright holder enjoys, and how long the copyright lasts. As a result, copyright law varies significantly from one country to another.
The Public Domain is the name given to the set of creative works that are not protected by copyright law -- either because they are no longer covered by the limited terms of copyright law, because their creators did not comply with various formal requirements in the past, or because their creators deliberately donated to the public the rights that they might have asserted.
Cornell University Library's Copyright Information Center maintains a Guide to Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States.
AJ Blechner of Harvard University's Law Library has created a Guide to Finding Public Domain & Creative Commons Media.