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Copyright: Overview

Legal Disclaimer

This guide is intended to provide you with information about copyright. It should not be treated as legal advice, nor is it intended to replace advice of legal counsel.

The information on this guide is based on the laws of the United States; copyright protections vary from country to country. If you are located in another country or are looking at a work by a non-American creator, copyright laws may be different.

All information and quotes in this guide are drawn from United States Code Title 17 unless otherwise indicated.

What Is Copyright?

Copyright allows the maker of a creative work to profit from it in order to encourage the production of the “useful arts.” In the United States, this term for works published after 1977 is life of the creator plus 70 years. Copyright does not apply to purely factual or informational works, since “at least a modicum” of creativity is required in order to achieve copyright.

Vocabulary Used in This Guide

Copyright: the protections granted to creative works that are fixed in a medium
Fixation: the work must be documented in a tangible form (i.e. it must be recorded in some way in a physical medium)
Infringement: the use of a work protected by copyright without the permission of the creator
Intellectual Property Rights: rights granted to creators via copyright, patents, and trademarks
Patents: the right granted by the federal government to exclude others from making, using, selling, and importing an invention for a limited period of time
Trademarks: the word, phrase, symbol, or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of goods from other sources (i.e. branding)
Useful Articles: items that have an intrinsic utilitarian function that are typically subject to patents and trademarks rather than copyright (see "For Artists" tab)

Copyright FAQ

Do I have to apply for copyright in order for my work to be protected?

  • Work automatically receives copyright (provided it meets the qualifications below) upon creation and fixation in a medium (see "Vocabulary" box)
  • Works do not need to be registered with the US Copyright Office in order to be copyrighted BUT
    • Registering it with the Office provides an additional layer of protection in the case of possible infringements in the future

What qualifications do my works need to meet in order to be copyrightable?

  • In order for a work to qualify for copyright, it must be:
    • Original 
    • A creative work (not purely factual)
    • Fixed in a tangible medium

What rights do copyright holders have?

  • Exclusive rights to do and authorize the following:
    • Reproduce the work
    • Make derivatives of the work
    • Distribute copies of the work
    • Perform the work publicly (for performance and performing arts, including audio and audiovisual works)
    • Display the work publicly

Important Resources

CCS Intellectual Property Rights Policy - CCS has IPR policies for its students, staff and faculty which can be reviewed at the above link.

Copyright Law of the United States: United States Code Title 17 - This is the text of United States Code Title 17 which contains all US copyright law and subsequent amendments.

Frequently Asked Questions about Copyright - Published by the Copyright Office, this is a comprehensive listing of general copyright and registration questions.

College for Creative Studies website