Copyright Basics

Created: March 2017

Last Updated: April 2020

This learning experience is part of a playlist — two or more learning experiences focused on specific areas of the digital world. You can find this playlist, Sharing Your Work Online — What License to Use?, here. This particular learning experience is the first in a sequence of six. Learning experiences in a playlist build off of each other, but they were designed so that they can also be completed on their own! 

Estimated time:

30 minutes

  • [10 minutes] Activity
  • [20 minutes] Challenge
Group or individual activity:Group
Ages:13-18 years old
Grades: Grades 8-12
Online / offline elements:This learning experience contains an offline activity and challenge.

Main area: Law

Additional areas: Content Production

LicenseThis learning experience has been created by Youth and Media and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution­ShareAlike 4.0 International license. For more information, please visit

Learning Goal

Identify the kind of creative works that are protected by copyright. 


  • [Optional] Computer or mobile device with Internet access

  • [Optional] Paper

  • [Optional] Pen or pencil



One day after school, you decide to play Minecraft and build a replica of your town in the game. When you finally finish, you share your creation online. A few days later, you notice someone selling expansion packs of different towns around the world, including the replica you made. You think to yourself, “Are they allowed to sell my creation and make money off of it without my permission?”

Fortunately, U.S. law has a variety of different ways to make sure that creators keep certain rights over their work. We call this legal system copyright. Copyright refers to the exclusive rights of a creator to do certain things with an original work, like publish, distribute, and adapt it, for a period of time. 

Copyright comes from the U.S. Constitution (United States Constitution, Article 1, Section 8): “The Congress shall have 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.” 

Copyright gives creators the right to display, share, and perform their work. It also allows creators to earn money from their work. However, certain things aren’t copyrightable. For instance, you can’t copyright the “idea” of your town in Minecraft; you have to make the town (what copyright law calls a “fixed expression”). 

Why is copyright important? What type of content does copyright protect? Feel free to take a look at the resources to learn more, and check out the “Fair Use Basics” learning experience for additional information. 


In a paragraph or two, please answer the following questions:

  1. List at least three different copyrighted works you have shared on social media.

  2. Reflect on something you have made in the past (e.g., video, song). Are there certain ways people might use this work you might be more comfortable with than others? 

  3. Would you be more or equally as likely to create after acquiring a copyright for your work? 

  4. Think about how copyright law might be problematic in the digital age (e.g., ease of sharing content online). What problems does restricting who can copy certain content bring up when material exists online (and is not physical)?

Next Steps 

Awesome job on completing this challenge! We just know that others are curious to see what you learned! We encourage you to share your write-up with an educator, mentor, or advisor, or a family member or friend. We invite you to also share your write-up with the Youth and Media team through email ( Please note the title of the learning experience in the subject line of the email. 


Individual vs. Group 
Release Date 
April, 2020