By authoring a work, you are automatically granted the copyright to that work in the United States. You do not need to register it, you do not need to send it to yourself in a sealed envelope; all you need to do is to "fix your idea in a tangible medium." That means it must be somewhere other than just inside your head. It can be on a napkin, in a computer, scribbled throughout a notebook, or where ever else you see fit.
However, not everything can be copyrighted. See the copyright section below for more information on the technical aspects of copyright.
The Scholarly Communications & Related Issues library guide has additional information on copyrights pertaining to scholarly work.
The following types of work are subject to copyright law:
musical works, including any accompanying words;
dramatic works, including any accompanying music;
pantomimes and choreographic works;
pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;
motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
sound recordings; and
Section 102 of U.S. copyright law lists the types of work that are subject to copyright.
Under current copyright law, copyright holders have the exclusive rights to do or authorize the following:
to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords;
to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work;
to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;
in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works, to perform the copyrighted work publicly;
in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to display the copyrighted work publicly;
in the case of sound recordings, to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.
Sections 106 and 106a of U.S. Copyright law covers the exclusive rights granted by copyright.
Sections 107 - 122 of U.S. Copyright law outline the limitations to the exclusive rights granted by copyright.
The following types of work are not copyrightable:
Ideas, procedures, methods, systems and processes
Titles, names, short phrases and slogans - slogans may qualify for trademark protection
Facts, news, and research
Works in the public domain - created by U.S. Government employees, or work published in the U.S. prior to 1923
How long does copyright last?
Works created on or after January 1,1978 are protected for a term of the life of the author plus 70 years. For corporate authors, the protection is for the shorter of 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation. Works created and published prior to 1978 may be protected for different lengths of time and the Copyright Duration Chart should be consulted.
Copyright law is, for good or for ill, an increasing concern for academics in their work. One area receiving particular attention is the copyright status of data and data representations. The Copyright Act and relevant case law are clear on copyright protection for data in the United States: there is none. This excellent site on the Copyrightability of Charts, Tables, and Graphs from the University of Michigan explains why.
Copyrights are actually a bundle of rights. They can be transferred in their entirety by the author to a publisher, or the author can transfer only certain rights. Traditionally in scholarly publishing, publishers require the transfer of the entire bundle of rights as a condition of publication. However, you do not have to surrender all copyrights when you publish. The University of California Office of Scholarly Communication website includes information on how to retain your copyrights.
Authors Alliance is a nonprofit organization that promotes authorship for the public good by supporting authors who write to be read. Pursuant to this mission, Authors Alliance created this guide to help authors regain rights from their publishers or otherwise get the permission they need to make their books available in the ways they want. In this way, Authors Alliance seeks to enhance the public’s access to works of cultural and research value.
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