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Student Guide for Copyright, Intellectual Property, and Creative Commons: Copyright

Student guide to information on Copyright, Intellectual Property, and Creative Commons


Copyright can be confusing and frustrating to understand. Montgomery College librarians are experienced in conducting research and providing support for students with questions about copyright. This guide provides resources to help you. We hope you find it useful. Please feel free to contact us if you need assistance.


For additional guidance on Copyright contact:


College Policy Use of Copyright Materials: 




Copyright 101

In the United States, copyright is governed by the Copyright Act of 1976.

What is copyright?

Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.

What does copyright protect?

Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section What Works Are Protected.

How is a copyright different from a patent or a trademark?

Copyright protects original works of authorship, while a patent protects inventions or discoveries. Ideas and discoveries are not protected by the copyright law, although the way in which they are expressed may be. A trademark protects words, phrases, symbols, or designs identifying the source of the goods or services of one party and distinguishing them from those of others.

Source: U. S. Copyright Office

Is it in the Public Domain?

  • works published before 1925
  • works where copyright has expired
  • most federal documents
  • works where owners give up their rights
  • facts, titles, ideas, etc.
  • freeware or unlicensed software

Copyright for Students


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Alex Moyer
Takoma Park/Silver Spring Campus
Resource Center (RC)
Office 213


The information presented here is intended for informational purposes and should not be construed as legal advice. Links provided to other websites are for the convenience of our users and are not intended as endorsements. The College is not responsible for any information provided on those websites.

Neither the College nor the library is legally responsible for the use to which the copyright information is put. The user retains legal responsibility for all decisions on copyright matters.