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Copyright at a Glance

Copyright is automatic!

Copyright protection in the U.S. exists automatically from the moment an original work of authorship is fixed in a tangible medium. Registration of copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office is voluntary. There are cases in which registration is recommended, but it is never required.

In order to be copyrightable, a work must be:

  • Original (minimally creative)
  • Fixed (written down or recorded in some fashion)
  • Not of a type that is excluded from copyright protection


What is protected?

  • Literary Works
  • Computer software
  • Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works (e.g. paintings, drawings, carvings, photographs, clothing designs)
  • Architectural works (buildings as well as blueprints, drawings, diagrams, models)
  • Sound recordings (songs, music, spoken word, sounds, other recordings)
  • Audiovisual works (movies, animation, TV programs, videogames)
  • Pantomimes and choreographic works
  • Dramatic works and accompanying music (plays and musicals)


What is not protected:

  • Works that have not been fixed in a tangible medium of expression
  • Titles, names, short phrases and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; listings of ingredients or contents
  • Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries or devices
  • Works that consist entirely of information that are natural or self-evident facts, containing no original authorship (such as a phone book or standard calendar)
  • Works created by the U.S. Government
  • Works for which copyright has expired (works in the public domain)

How long does copyright protection last?

For works published in 1978 and later, copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. The copyright term for corporations (works for hire) is 120 years from creation or 95 years from publication, whichever is later.

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