Copyright FAQ

Below are some common questions and answers regarding copyright and adhering to copyright restrictions in the works you use. Please note that this page is a work in progress and will be updated as the copyright committee validates the information.

Disclaimer: The information presented below is only general information, and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be provided in the course of an attorney-client relationship with reference to all the facts of the particular situation under consideration. Accordingly, the information below must not be relied upon as a substitute for obtaining information from a licensed attorney. 

Introduction to Copyright

What is copyright?

Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the US Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works. (US Copyright Office)

Do you have to apply for copyright?

Copyright, unlike patent, is not something you have to apply for—it vests the minute you fix something creative in a tangible form and, in general, it lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years (there are some exceptions). In other words, nearly all authors are technically copyright holders. Put another way, just because something is published does not it mean it isn't copyrighted. It's true that some authors don't elect to register their copyrights or enforce them but they have the right to do so for their entire lives, and their heirs can enforce the rights for 70 years beyond that.

Can copyright be enforced if the work is not registered?

An author does not need to register his/her copyright in order to have rights—the author just needs to register before bringing a lawsuit for infringement. In other words, just because something isn't labeled "© date" doesn't mean it isn't copyrighted, and failure to register the copyright does not mean the author has abandoned his/her rights.

When a work is published, does that mean it is in the public domain?

Just because something is published does not mean it's in the public domain. Something is only in the public domain when the intellectual property rights have expired (for example, the copyright term has expired after 70 years plus the life of the author), or the intellectual property rights have been forfeited (for example, by a non-enforcement covenant or judicial ruling).