Copyright is one of four types of intellectual property protected by federal law in the U.S. The others are patent, trademark and trade secret. Copyright is important for students and educators to understand. But everyone who creates Web pages should watch for trademark issues as well as copyright issues.
The Copyright Law (first enacted in 1790) gives Copyright owners the exclusive right to duplication (reproduction), distribution, derivation, display, and public performance (directly, digitally or by telecommunications). The attempt to balance the rights of copyright owners and the needs of researchers is provided for in the various exemptions found in Sections 107 through 121 of the Copyright Law. Of particular importance to students and educators are Section 107: The Fair Use Exemption and Section 110 The Face-to-face Teaching Exemption of The U.S. Code Title 17 (aka The Copyright Law). These portions of the copyright law provide educators and researchers (students) for the reasonable use of copyrighted materials without permission from the copyright owner.
For more information on Copyright see Circular 1 Copyright Basics from the Library of Congress Copyright Office and for more in-depth study of the Copyright law as it relates to Educators see Circular 21.