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Copyright Guidelines

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a legal right, grounded in the United States Constitution, that gives the owner of copyrighted work the exclusive right to:

  • Reproduce (make copies of ) the work; and
  • Modify or prepare derivative works based on the work; and
  • Distribute the work in any format by sale, publication, license, rental, or for free; and
  • Publicly perform or display the work; and
  • Authorize others to exercise some or all of those rights

How Long does Copyright Last?

It depends.

Copyright applies for a limited term. The length of that term depends on when the work was first created, whether or not it has been published, and whether the work was first published in the US or abroad.

When the copyright term in a work expires, the work loses copyright protection and enters the public domain. 

To determine the copyright term for all other works, consult the Cornell University chart Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States.

Public Domain

These works are in the public domain and can be used by anyone for any legal purpose without permission:

  • Works created by U.S. government employees in the scope of their employment
  • Works for which copyright protection has expired
  • Works that do not contain the requisite originality (e.g., facts, blank forms)
  • Works that contain a notice from the copyright owner expressly rejecting any claim of copyright and placing the work in the public domain

Unless you are sure a work falls into one of these categories, you must assume the work is protected by copyright