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Copyright for Authors and Creators

What Should Authors Do?

  • Early on, think about how you plan to use and disseminate your work
  • Get permission to reuse content that was created by others
  • Properly credit all authors whose work you reuse
  • Consider registering your works with the US Copyright Office
  • If you publish with a publisher, use a publisher willing to negotiate to allow authors to retain certain rights
  • Carefully review all publishers' copyright agreement forms
  • Attach an addendum if necessary, in order to retain rights
  • Keep a record of all signed documents
  • Comply with any publisher restrictions on use

For Starters...

What kinds of things are copyrighted? Copyright protects any “original works of authorship” that are somehow "fixed" in time and space - e.g., written down, posted on the web, scribbled on a cocktail napkin. All of these are copyrighted:

  • Letters, emails, text messages
  • Prepared speeches
  • Digital or print photographs
  • Web sites
  • Music, audio recordings, films
  • Plays, dances, artwork
  • Books 
  • Software

Who owns copyright?

  • The person(s) authoring the work generally owns the copyright.
  • Works created by an employee, in the course of his/her employment, are generally owned by the employer. This is a "work for hire."

What cannot be copyrighted?

  • Things that are not “fixed”: Impromptu speeches; singing in the shower.
  • Factual information: Weights & measures, lists, addresses, dates…
  • Inventions, slogans: This is what patents & trademarks are for.

How long does copyright last? A long time – generally speaking, copyright lasts 70 years after the life of the author. If a work is created by a corporation or employer, copyright lasts 95 years past the publication date. See this site for more information.

What kinds of things are no longer covered by copyright? Works published a long time ago – before 1923 – are no longer covered by copyright. These are thus said to be in the “public domain.” There are other ways to release a copyright, intentionally to share works with others, such as Creative Commons.

Copyright vs. Plagiarism: Copyright is different from plagiarism – “plagiarism” is an appropriation of someone else’s work without giving proper credit. You can plagiarize without infringing a copyright.