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Intellectual Property - Copyright

copyright symbol and stamp representing copyright

What is copyright?

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 Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.

What does copyright protect?

Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed. See Circular 1,Copyright Basics, section "What Works Are Protected (PDF)." Learn more

Registering a work

No publication, registration or other action in the Copyright Office is required to secure copyright. Copyright is secured automatically when the work is created, and a work is "created" when it is fixed in a “copy or a phonorecord for the first time.” However, registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim.

How to find out if a work has been copyrighted

  • You can search the database of U.S.Copyrights that have been registered or renewed since 1978 by searching the Copyright Office Catalog. This database does not contain the text of any copyrighted material, nor does it have the address of any copyright holder. You can use it to verify the registration date of copyright.
  • For pre-1978 registrations, the library has a paper collection of the Catalog of Copyright Entries from 1871 forward in the Science, Technology, and Patents Department. Many of these volumes have been digitized and are online through the Hathi Trust Digital Library and Google Books. Another useful pathfinder is offered from the University of Pennsylvania’s digital planner, John Mark Ockerbloom. Also, see his page about copyright renewals.
  • A researcher can arrange for the U.S. Copyright Office to conduct a search of the copyright records for $200.00 per hour by submitting a search estimate form. (Fees subject to change)
  • Copyright Term and Public Domain in the United States – a useful guide from Cornell University Library

Using a copyrighted work