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Determining Copyright

Determining whether a work is copyrighted involves 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 coursework.

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" e.g., written on a piece of paper, saved on a computer hard drive, or recorded on audio/video tape.

Written Permission for Use of Work

It is required to obtain permission from the the copyright holder, which may not be the author, in order to use a copyrighted work.

Learn how to obtain permission and identify the copyright holder.

Non-Copyrighted Works

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

Cannot Be Copyrighted

  • Facts and ideas
  • Processes, methods, systems, and procedures
  • Titles
  • Most works prepared by the U.S. government

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, Dec. 31, 1924 is now in the public domain.
  • Works published between Jan. 1, 1925 and Dec. 31, 1978 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 Dec. 31, 1978, but never published, are protected for the life of the author plus 70 years or until Dec. 31, 2002, whichever comes later.

Determine if a work is in the public domain.