What is copyright?
A copyright is the set of exclusive legal rights
authors have over their works for a limited period of time. In the
United States, these rights are primarily defined by federal copyright
acts under the authority of the U.S.Constitution.
The current 1976
Copyright Act, amended several times since its enactment, gives
authors exclusive rights to copy the works, distribute and sell
copies, modify and adapt the works, convert the words into other
formats, and publicly perform or display the works. Currently, the
author's rights begin automatically when a work is created. Copyrighted
works are not limited to those that bear a copyright notice or are
registered. These rights prohibit others from using the works without
permission or profiting from the sale or performance of these works
for a fixed period of time. For more information, see the Office
of Technology Transfer's What
What works are protected by copyright?
Copyright protects "original works of authorship"
that are "fixed in any tangible medium of expression." Expression
refers to the way in which an author describes, expresses, or illustrates
something. Copyrightable works now include a vast array of creative
expressions, including: writings, musical works, plays, pantomimes,
choreography, artwork, photography, sculptures, architecture, motion
pictures, audiovisual works, sound recordings, web pages, and computer
programs. Almost all works created after 1978, even those with no
mention of copyright, have copyright protection.
What is not protected by copyright?
Copyright protects original expression only. Copyright
does not protect the underlying ideas and facts described in an
author's work. According to Section 102 (b) of the Copyright Act
"In no case does copyright expression
for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure,
process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery,
regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated,
or embodied in such work."
Even though copyright does not protect ideas and
facts, it is important to keep in mind that the form of expression
of ideas or facts, and their arrangement and selection, may be copyrightable,
i.e., under certain circumstances the way in which noncopyrightable
elements are selected and arranged may be entitled to protection
as a collective work.
In general, material that is not eligible for copyright
protection includes ideas, facts, discoveries, items that meet patent
and trademark requirements, works containing no original authorship,
works with expired copyrights, and U.S. government works. Material
that is ineligible for copyright, patent, or trademark protection,
or that is not kept confidential as a trade secret is in the public
domain. For more information on public domain works, see What
types of works and information make up the public domain?
How do I register a copyright?
While registering a copyright of an original work
is not necessary to obtain full copyright protection, it is a good
idea. The benefits of copyright registration are described in Circular
1, Copyright Registration (pdf). Registration with the U.S. Copyright
Office is necessary in order to bring a lawsuit for infringement.
Additionally, if works are registered in a timely fashion (within
three months of publication or before an infringement occurs) a
copyright owner may claim statutory damages and attorney's fees,
in addition to actual damages and profits. Procedures to register
a work are straightforward and inexpensive. To register a work,
an author submits a completed application form, a $30 filing fee,
and copies of the work to the U.S. Copyright Office. For information
on registration procedures, see Circular
1, Registration Procedures (pdf).
How long do copyrights last?
For works created after 1978, copyright generally
lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. For works made for
hire, the copyright term the shorter of 95 years from publication,
or 120 years from creation. For joint works the term is the lifetime
of the last living author plus 70 years. In the case of anonymous
or pseudonymous works, copyright lasts 95 years after publication
or 120 years after creation, whichever comes first. For more information
on the duration of copyright, see Rules
of thumb for public domain works.
How do I protect my copyright?
As soon as an author's original work is fixed in
a tangible form, it is automatically protected by copyright law,
including material on the Internet. Consequently, copyright owners
can assert infringement claims and pursue corrective and/or legal
measures without doing anything further. It is advisable, however,
for copyright owners to register their copyrights with the U.S.
Copyright Office within three months of the first publication of
their work in order to qualify for the collection of attorneys'
fees if a later infringement claim against an infringer is successful.
It is also necessary for a copyright to have been registered prior
to filing a copyright infringement lawsuit. See the Copyright Office's
information on Copyright
Typically, an owner, perhaps with the assistance
of an attorney, first sends a "cease and desist" letter
to the suspected infringer demanding that the infringing activity
cease. If that is not successful, the owner needs to determine whether
to file a lawsuit for copyright infringement. If the owner becomes
aware of infringement on the web but knows only the identity of
the online service provider, the owner may send a notice to the
online service provider under the provisions of the Digital
Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) demanding that the infringing
material be removed. Under the federal Copyright
Act, a copyright owner who successfully proves infringement
may be entitled to attorneys' fees (if the work has been registered
within three months of the first publication), actual damages resulting
from the infringing activity, or statutory damages where the actual
damages are difficult to calculate or are not great (if the work
has been registered within three months of first publication). If
damages would not be an adequate remedy, a copyright owner may file
a request for a preliminary injunction that would order the infringer
to cease infringing. If the infringement threatens immediate harm
for which (money) damages would not be adequately compensatory,
a request for a temporary restraining order might be appropriate.
All copyright infringement actions are filed in federal court.
In addition to legal remedies, digital rights management
(DRM) technology could be used to limit access to original works
on the Internet to only those authorized to use these works.
Copyright Ownership at UC
Copyright ownership is typically addressed in higher
education through institutional policy or written agreements. The
University of California has policies that clarify who owns the
copyright to original works created at UC and how the rights of
ownership and royalties are allocated between the authors and the
University. The 1992 University of California Policy
on Copyright Ownership provides explicit guidance regarding
all categories of original works (except course materials) created
by the UC community. The 2003 Policy
on Ownership of Course Materials supplements the 1992 Policy
to address the allocation of rights of ownership for materials prepared
for instructional purposes. For more information on current UC ownership
policies and practices, see the Office of Technology Transfer's
Works Created at the University of California.
Who is an author?
Under copyright law, the creator of the original
expression in a work is its author. The author is also the owner
of copyright unless there is a written agreement by which the author
assigns the copyright to another person or organization, such as
a publisher. In cases of works made for hire, the employer
or commissioning party is considered the author. For more information
on ownership by category of work at UC, see the UC
Policy QuickGuide and Section
IV in the Policy on Copyright Ownership.
What is a work made for hire?
Although the general rule is that the person who
creates the work is its author, there is an exception to that principle.
The exception is a work made for hire, which is a work prepared
by an employee within the scope of his or her employment; or a work
specially ordered or commissioned in certain specified circumstances.
When a work qualifies as a work made for hire, the employer or commissioning
party is considered its author. The copyright of a work made for
hire is 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever
What is joint authorship?
A joint work is a work prepared by two or more
individuals, with the intention that their separate contributions
be merged into a single work. A joint author can also be an organization
or a corporation under the work made for hire doctrine.
Absent an agreement to the contrary, authors own
the work jointly and equally. Each joint author, therefore, has
the right to exercise any or all of the exclusive rights inherent
in the joint work. (For more information on the exclusive rights
of the copyright owner, see What
is copyright? from the Office of Technology Transfer.) This
means that each author can grant third parties permission to use
the work on a nonexclusive basis without the consent of other joint
authors. Each author may also transfer his or her entire ownership
interest to another person without the other joint authors' consent.
Each author may also update the work for his or her own purposes.
Additionally, each joint author has a duty to account to the other
joint authors for any profits received from licensing the joint
For a number of reasons collaborators should try
to clarify joint ownership interests in a written (or even an oral)
agreement -- clarifying such issues as ownership and use issues,
rights to revise the works, marketing and sharing of any revenue,
and warranties against copyright infringement. At UC the ownership
of joint works is determined by assessing the category of work for
each of the contributors as defined in Section
V of the Policy on Copyright Ownership.
When two or more people collaborate to create a
single copyrighted work, the duration of the copyright is the lifetime
of the last living author plus 70 years. If one of the joint authors
is an organization, e.g., the University of California, the copyright
would last 95 years from publication or 120 years after creation,
whichever comes first.
Transfer of copyright to publishers
Copyrights can be bought, sold, willed to others,
or given away. A transfer of the copyright or an exclusive grant
or license to use the work is a transaction that must be conveyed
in writing. Publishers commonly require an author to transfer his/her
copyright to the publisher as a condition of publication. A complete
transfer of copyright to a publisher restricts a faculty member's
right to use the work in future teaching and research. UC faculty
members facing this situation should not hesitate to try to negotiate
new terms. Faculty members may wish to insert language in these
agreements that reserve rights to use their own works for their
teaching and research at UC. Other options include retaining rights
to an electronic version for posting on the faculty member's own
Web site; retaining rights to all pre-publication drafts; or granting
others permission to use the work for nonprofit educational purposes.
To find out more about reserving certain rights, see Retain
Certain Copyrights on
the Reshaping Scholarly
Copyright and the Web
Copyrighted works are protected regardless of the
medium in which they are created or reproduced. Thus, copyright
extends to both digital works and works transformed into a digital
format. The copyright protections that are normally associated with
print media also govern the use of text, graphics, sound, and video
on the Web. When you create original text, images, and other content
for a web site, you are most likely creating original works that
are fixed in some tangible medium. A tangible medium in the online
world may be a Web server, floppy disk, or CD-ROM.
copyright ownership resources