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Copyright for Authors and Creators

Works protected by copyright

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.

Examples of copyrightable works include:

  • Literary works
  • Musical works, including any accompanying words
  • Dramatic works, including any accompanying music
  • Pantomimes and choreographic works
  • Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  • Motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • Sound recordings, which are works that result from the fixation of a series of musical, spoken, or other sounds
  • Architectural works

Getting Permission to Use Someone Else's Work