What is Copyright
Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the untied states to the authors of "original works of authorship" that are fixed in a tangible form of expression. These rights are granted by the Congress of the United States in Title 17 of the United States Code.
Copyright in the United States grants authors and creators a limited monopoly over the works they create 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.
For works to be protected they need to:
Copyright provides the owner of the copyright with the exclusive right to:
Exceptions to the Exclusivity
Congress did, however, grant exceptions and place limitations upon these rights. Not all works can be protected, protection lasts for a set period of time, and there are circumstances where a use is deemed to be fair.
Additionally, there are other forms of intellectual property protections such as patents and trademarks. These will not be addressed in this LibGuide.
Examples of copyrightable works include:
For an in-depth discussion of what can be protected, see: Copyrightable Authorship: What Can Be Registered
Do works have to be registered to be protected:
No. Copyright extends immediately to all works that are fixed in a tangible format. Works created after March 1, 1989 are not required to be registered nor are they required to have any markings of Copyright.
However, the United States Copyright Office does encourage registration as it aids in identifying ownership and could be useful in any legal challenges.
What is not protected by Copyright:
There are two broad categories of works that are not covered by Copyright
Works not eligible for copyright
While the above examples may be exempt from Copyright, they may subject to other protections such as Trademarks.
For a discussion of what is not protected, see: Works not protected by Copyright: Circular #33
Works in the Public Domain:
The public domain is a term that refers creative materials that are not covered by intellectual property laws such as trademarks, patents, and copyrights. The public owns these works and authors no longer retain specific rights. Works arrive in the public domain in five common ways:
The typical term for Copyright protection extends the life of the author plus 70 years. However, there are notable exceptions such as:
The Library at Cornell University presents a useful chart to determine timeframes for when a work enters the public domain: Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States.
Who is an author or creator
The terms author and creator are used synonymously to describe a person or persons responsible for the intellectual content of a work. When there are more than one author involved the work is considered to have joint authorship with each author holding equal rights. The amount of work contributed by each creator does not play a role in determining ownership, ownership is held jointly and equally. Examples might include:
In most cases the length of copyright protection extends through the author's lifetime plus 70 years. In the case of joint ownership, the protection extends through the life plus 70 years of the last surviving author.
What about students
Copyright protection extends to any author regardless of their student status. This is particularly important to remember in the classroom. Students own the copyright to anything they create, either individually or jointly in the case of group projects.
The instructor must gain permission from the student to reuse their works. If a student is a minor, permission must be gained from their legal guardian. Some examples might include
What are Works Made for Hire
Works that are created while in the employ of another entity fall into a different category. The copyrights to these works are retained by the employer not the creator. Works Made for Hire are those works that:
These works belong to the employer not the employee. However, there are exceptions and specific rules hat must be met in order for a work to fall into this category. Works Made for Hire: Circular #30 is an excellent resource for more information.
Some examples might include:
Who is the Copyright Owner
In the vast majority of instances the author/creator is the initial owner of a work's copyright. However, that ownership can be passed to another entity. Examples might include:
How Long are Works Protected
The general rule is works are protected for the life of the author plus 70 years. However, over the years Congress has amended and updated various aspects of Title 17. The Library at Cornell University has an excellent guide for Copyright Terms and the Public Domain.