Copyright FAQs

What is copyright?

Copyright protects original, creative works fixed in a tangible form. Among the things protected by copyright are: writings, music, movies, plays, videos, sound recordings, choreography, architectural designs, sculptures, and paintings.

What work is not protected by copyright?

Copyright does not protect ideas, facts, names, trademarks, titles, slogans, unfixed works (improvised speeches), blank forms, standardized material, and works created by federal government employees.

Who owns copyright?

Typically, the creator of the work (known as the 'author') owns the copyright. However, when a work is sold or transferred or when it categorized as a work made for hire, (here's an article on that topic), the creator does not own copyright.

What are a copyright owner’s rights?

A copyright owner can restrict the unauthorized use of the work. An owner has the right to distribute, reproduce, display, make derivatives, and perform the work publicly.

When does copyright protection begin?

Copyright protection begins the moment a work is fixed in tangible form.

How long does copyright protection last?

Works published after January 1, 1978:

  • Sole authorship: life of the author plus 70 years
  • Joint authorship: 70 years after the death of the last surviving author
  • Work made for hire and anonymous and pseudonymous works: 95 years from the publication date or 120 years from creation.

Is publication required for copyright protection?

No. Publication is not a prerequisite to protection.

Does my work need to contain copyright notice?

No. Even though copyright notice -- the © symbol, or the word 'Copyright' and the name of the owner and date of publication -- is unnecessary, it does place others on notice of copyright protection. This not only makes it easier to ascertain the owner, but it may help the copyright holder in an infringement lawsuit.

Do I need to register my work with the U.S. Copyright Office to receive protection?

No. While registration is unnecessary for protection, it does create a public record of ownership and creates a legal presumption of a valid copyright. If a work is registered within three months of the publication date or before someone copies the work, the owner may be entitled to attorney fees and special damages known as statutory damages. A registration must be filed in order to sue for copyright infringement.

How much does registration cost?

The cost to register a work with the Copyright Office is $50 using a paper application and $35 using an online application. Click here for current fees.

Will I have to provide a copy of my work to register it?

Yes. The Copyright Office requires an applicant to provide a copy of the work. An electronic copy can be submitted with an online application. An unpublished work requires one complete copy while a published work requires two complete copies.

When is registration complete?

Typically, registration takes five months for online submissions and sometimes over a year for paper submissions. Once registration is complete, a certificate is issued to the copyright owner.  Registration, however, is valid when the Copyright Office receives a complete and acceptable submission.

What is copyright infringement?

Infringement is the unauthorized use of a copyright. A copyright owner may file a lawsuit in federal court and request monetary damages, attorney fees, and an injunction.