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Copyright guidance

Information about copyright issues relevant to research, publishing, and teaching.

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a property right that grants creators a set of exclusive rights to their works. A copyright owner is the only person that can:

  • Copy or reproduce the work
  • Distribute the work
  • Publicly perform or display the work
  • Create a derivative work based upon the original work (e.g., adaptation, translation, etc.).


What Does Copyright Protect?

Copyright protects "original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression." This means that in order to be copyrightable, a work must have:

  • Originality: works must reflect a minimal amount of creativity - exact copies or standard arrangements of facts, such as a listing of names and phone numbers, are ineligible for copyright
  • Authorship: works must be the product of a human author - works generated by an artificial intelligence system cannot be protected by copyright 
  • Fixation: works must be recorded in a permanent and perceptible form (e.g., written on paper, saved to a computer file, recorded on video, etc.)

Copyright does not protect ideas or facts but does protect how they are expressed. You can hold copyright in an article describing your ideas or facts you have discovered, but you cannot assert copyright in the underlying facts or concepts.

Categories of works that are generally protected by copyright include: artwork, photography, film, musical compositions, sound recordings, architectural works, choreography, computer code, and texts of all kinds (e.g., fiction, non-fiction, scientific articles, syllabi and lecture notes, etc.).



How Long Does Copyright Last?

Copyright protection is not indefinite - exclusive rights are granted to creators for only a limited period of time. The duration of copyright protection depends on a variety of factors, including who created the work and whether it was published. However, in general, copyright protection will exist during the creator's lifetime and then for an additional 70 years

When copyright protection expires, works enter what is known as the public domain. Works within the public domain can be freely used without the copyright owner's permission. In 2023, works published in the United States prior to 1928 are within the public domain, as are works created by authors who died prior to 1953