Determining Copyright

Determining whether a work is copyrighted is more than looking for a copyright symbol (©), which is no longer required. To be safe, you should assume that a work is copyrighted.

Be sure to always properly cite sources for class work.

Protected by copyright

In order to be protected by copyright, a work must be:

  • Original: created independently and not copied.
  • Creative: some minimal degree of creativity involved in making the work.
  • A work of authorship: includes literary, musical, dramatic, choreographic, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, audiovisual, and architectural works.
  • Fixed: "fixed in a tangible medium of expression" — written on a piece of paper, saved on a computer hard drive, or recorded on audio/video tape.

Written Permission for Use of Work

Note that you will need permission from the copyright holder which may or may not be the author. See Obtaining Permission for information on how to identify the copyright holder.

Non-copyrighted works

If you are unsure whether you can use/copy a work, check the Fair Use Guidelines.

Cannot be Copyrighted

  • Facts and ideas
  • Processes, methods, systems, and procedures
  • Titles
  • All works prepared by the United States Government
  • Constitutions and laws of State governments

Liberty University Works

Most likely you can use a work created by Liberty University; however, depending on the nature of the work and the specific use, you may need to contact the department from which the work originated.

Public Domain Works

Works in the public domain are no longer copyrighted and can be freely used. Works may be in the public domain for several reasons:

  • Copyright has expired
  • Creator failed to properly establish copyright
  • Work was published by the U.S. government

General Rules
Excluding anonymous works and works for hire

  • Any work published on or before December 31, 1922 is now in the public domain.
  • Works published between January 1, 1923 and December 31, 1978, inclusive, are protected for a term of 95 years from the date of publication, with the proper notice.
  • After 1978, it is no longer related to a date of publication, but rather runs for 70 years from the date the author dies, "life of the author" plus 70 years. Works are protected whether they are published or not.
  • Works that were created before December 31, 1978, but never published, are protected for the life of the author plus 70 years or until December 31, 2002, whichever comes later.

View Chart for determining if a work is in the public domain