Copyright and Intellectual Property

Copyright Basics
What is Copyright?
What is the purpose of copyright?
What can be copyrighted?
What can't be copyrighted?
How long does copyright last?
What is copyright violation?
What is "fair use"?
How to Protect Copyrights
Who owns copyrights?
How do I secure my copyrights?
How do I register my work?
Can I transfer my copyrights to someone else?
More information

Copyright Basics

What is Copyright?
Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code) to the authors of "original works of authorship." This protection applies to both published and unpublished works.
What is the purpose of copyright?
"To promote the progress of science and the useful arts by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries" — U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 8.
What can be copyrighted?
A wide range of materials is protected under copyright law, including articles, books, artwork, and music. If you can read it, hear it, or watch it, chances are that it is protected by copyright law.
What can't be copyrighted?
There are things that can't be copyrighted. They include:
  • Works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression (for example, speeches that have not been written or recorded
  • Titles, personal names, familiar symbols or designs
  • Ideas, procedures, and methods
  • Works containing no original authorship (for example, standard calendars, height or weight charts)
  • Works in the public domain (for example, works where copyright has expired, or government publications and laws).
How long does copyright last?
The basic term of U.S. copyright protection for works created today is for the life of the author plus 70 years. Different rules apply to works created before 1978. The American Libraries Association has developed a "Copyright Slider Tool" that makes it easy to understand copyright protections based year of first publication.
http://librarycopyright.net/digitalslider/.
Works published before 1923 are now in the public domain.
What is copyright violation?
Copyright is violated when someone copies or uses a copyrighted work without the permission of the copyright owner unless used within the fair use provision of the copyright law.
What is "fair use"?
Many educational and non-profit uses of copyrighted material are permitted by the "Fair Use" provision of copyright law.

How to Protect Copyrights

Who owns copyrights?
As a general rule, the initial owner of the copyright is the person who does the creative work. If you wrote the book or created the artwork, you are the copyright owner. Cal Poly faculty and students own the copyrights to their work. For more information, see our page on author's rights.
How do I secure my copyrights?
Once you create an original work, and fix it on paper (or in digital form), the work receives instant and automatic copyright protection. The law today does NOT require placing a notice of copyright on the work NOR registering the work with the U.S. Copyright Office. There are, however, advantages to registration.
How do I register my work?
Registration is easy. Go to the U.S. Copyright Office web site, download the proper forms, fill out and return with the copyright fee.
Can I transfer my copyrights to someone else?
For more information on protecting, using, transferring, and managing your rights as an author, see our page on author's rights.

More information

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