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The Rights of Copyright

Under U.S. copyright law, authors enjoy an exclusive set of rights over their creative and expressive works to

  • make copies,
  • distribute,
  • perform,
  • display, and
  • make derivatives of their works.

You must obtain permission from the copyright owner before using a work in any way listed above.

Copyright Law of the United States, 17 U.S.C. § 106

What Copyright Protects

Copyright protection covers a range of different types of creative and expressive works as long as those works are original and fixed in a tangible medium - whether on paper or as a digital file. Copyright law protects the following types of works:

  • literary works,
  • musical works, including accompanying words,
  • dramatic works, including accompanying music,
  • pantomimes and choreographic works,
  • pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works,
  • motion pictures and other audiovisual works,
  • sound recordings, and
  • architectural works.

Only creative and expressive works are protected under copyright law. Copyright does not apply to

  • ideas,
  • processes,
  • procedures,
  • method of operation,
  • concepts, or
  • principles.

Copyright Law of the United States, 17 U.S.C. § 102

Duration of Copyright

In general, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years for works created after January 1, 1978.

This duration can change depending on other circumstances. For an anonymous work, a pseudonymous work, or a work made for hire, the copyright endures for a term of 95 years from the year of its first publication or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first.

For works first published prior to 1978, the term will vary depending on several factors. Use this chart to determine whether the copyright has expired in these other scenarios: Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States

Once the copyright expires, the work falls into the Public Domain, and it is free to use.

(U.S. Copyright Office. (n.d.). How long does copyright last?

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