Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
The University of Arizona


A guide on copyright for COMP

Copyright at a Glance

What is copyright?

Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States to the authors of “original works of authorship” that are fixed in a tangible form of expression. An original work of authorship is a work that is independently created by a human author and possesses at least some minimal degree of creativity. A work is “fixed” when it is captured (either by or under the authority of an author) in a sufficiently permanent medium such that the work can be perceived, reproduced, or communicated for more than a short time. 

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)

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.

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.

For works published earlier, or published under special circumstances, see Copyright Term and the Public Domain from the Cornell Copyright Information Center.

Resources for Further Information