This guide is intended for informational purposes and should not be construed as legal advice or guidance. If you have specific legal questions, please contact EMU's Legal Affairs Office.

Basic Copyright Principles

What is copyright?

Copyright law provides a set of rights to authors/creators allowing them to benefit from their creations exclusively for a set time. Copyright law also includes exemptions so that the public can use copyright-protected works without the permission of the copyright holder.

A copyright holders have the right to:

  • Reproduce the work
  • Distribute (publish/sell) copies of the work
  • Prepare derivative works (translations, audio version of a book, etc.)
  • Perform (recite, act, play) the work
  • Display the work
  • License any of the above to 3rd parties
  • Give copyright away entirely

What works are copyrightable?

There are 2 elements a work must possess to be copyrightable:

  • Creativity (the work must have a "modicum" of creativity)
  • Fixed form (the work must be in a tangible medium of expression, such as a paper, a computer hard drive, a recording)

The following types of works are copyrightable:

  • Literary Works
  • Computer software
  • Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works (e.g. paintings, drawings, carvings, photographs, clothing designs)
  • Architectural works (buildings as well as blueprints, drawings, diagrams, models)
  • Sound recordings (e.g. songs, music, spoken word, sounds, other recordings)
  • Audiovisual works (e.g. movies, videogames)
  • Pantomimes and choreographic works
  • Dramatic works and accompanying music (plays and musicals)

Not all works are copyrightable. Ideas, concepts, procedures, and methods are not protected by copyright. U.S. federal government documents are not protected by copyright either.

How long does copyright last?

  • Works created by an individual - the author's life + 70 years
  • Works created by a corporation - 120 years from creation or 95 years from publication, whichever is later.

Registering Copyright

Once your work is in a physical form - a written work, a photo, or a computer file, it is protected by copyright. This is automatic; you do not need to do a thing.

However, your may want to register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office:

  • Doing so creates a public record establishing you as the copyright holder.
  • It is a requirement if you want to receive a monetary settlement if infringement occurs.

You can register your works with the U.S. Copyright Office using their Registration Portal.

What about the copyright notice? Most people have seen the copyright notice ("©") on published materials, from books to websites. Adding the notice is not necessary. But feel free to add the notice to let others know the identity of the copyright holder.