Copyright is a temporary bundle of rights, held exclusively by anyone who creates a fixed expression of an idea. (Meaning; it has to be fixed in a form, not just an idea in your head that you were going to make something out of, any day now....)
Creators also hold certain 'author's rights' known as 'moral rights' - they're about reputation and integrity.
The term “moral rights” comes from the French phrase droit moral and generally refers to certain noneconomic rights that are considered personal to an author. Chief among these rights are the right of an author to be credited as the author of their work (the right of attribution) and the right to prevent prejudicial distortions of the work (the right of integrity).
The fact that being known as the author of the works they have created is such a fundamental 'moral right' for creators is part of the reason that correct citation of those from whom we borrow information in order to do scholarship is so important in academia.
But authors also hold the exclusive (if temporary) rights to make copies of their works (now you know where the 'copyright' term came from in the first place), to distribute those copies, to perform their work in public, to display their work in public, to create 'derivations' or adaptations of those works (e.g.: translations to other languages) and to give permission to others to carry out those activities while using their works. As you may have guessed, all of these rights exist to allow an author to make money from their intellectual property, either by selling copies, selling admission to performances, or even by licensing some or all of those copyrights to others - for a fee.
While copyright law mainly protects authors, there are a number of exceptions that were deliberately built-in to copyright law to allow occasional, limited uses of small amounts of an author's works - even before that work enters the public domain. (More about that later, but if these exceptions didn't exist, there would be no scholarly communication or education as we know it.)
As stated above, the protection of copyright does not last for ever. For individual authors, copyright protects their works for their lifetime, plus 70 more years. So yes, you can do things like transfer your copyrights to others via a Will so that they can benefit financially from those works, for several additional decades.
At the end of the copyright protection period, all works enter the public domain - they can be used and adapted freely, by anyone, for any reason - all the public owns it now. This makes the public domain a hotbed of creativity for us all.
The Whittemore Library at Framingham State University offers access to its collections in order to support and facilitate education, research and scholarship. Within the parameters of that access, it is presumed that certain materials may be made available for reproduction for use in the classroom, for course reserves, or the Internet or World Wide Web. Many such materials in the Library's collections are protected by the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976 (Title 17, U.S.C., Sec. 101 et seq.). Additionally, the use or reproduction of certain materials may be restricted by terms of gift, privacy and publicity rights, and University policy.
It is recommended that scholars and researchers desiring to copy and reproduce materials available from the Library for educational, research and scholarship purposes consult the guidelines below. The purpose of these guidelines is to provide guidance for educators, scholars and students to reproduce copyrighted works for use in educational contexts under the fair use principles of current copyright law, including Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act.
Reproduction or transmission of protected items beyond that allowed under fair use exemptions to the U.S. Copyright Law requires the written permission of the copyright owner. In addition to print, copyright protections also govern the use of audio, video, and images, as well as text and images on the Internet. It is the obligation of the educator or researcher to determine and satisfy copyright or other use restrictions when distributing copyrighted materials. The limitations and conditions listed herein do not apply to works in the public domain, including U.S. Government works such as judicial opinions and administrative rulings, current newspaper or periodical articles, or very old works on which copyright has expired. Also to be considered are license agreements that govern the use of some works, such as audio recordings or photographic images.
Copyright infringement is the act of exercising, without permission or legal authority, one or more of the exclusive rights granted to the copyright owner under section 106 of the Copyright Act (Title 17 of the United States Code), including reproducing or distributing a copyrighted work. In the filesharing context, downloading or uploading substantial parts of a copyrighted work without authority also constitutes an infringement.
Unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material, including unauthorized peer-to-peer sharing, may subject an individual to civil and criminal liabilities. Penalties for violations of federal copyright laws may include payment of the actual dollar amount of damages and profits; a dollar penalty ranging from $200 to $150,000 for each work infringed; attorney's fees and court costs; an injunction to stop the infringing acts; court impoundment of the illegal work; or the infringer can go to jail. Students who engage in unauthorized peer-to-peer sharing, illegal downloading or unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials using the school's information technology system are subject to Student Code of Conduct regulations and possible disciplinary penalties.