Copyright Applies to You If

  • You have created a copyrighted work, or
  • You want to use someone else's copyrighted work

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a federal law (Title 17 of the United States Code) that protects the rights of individuals who bring certain creative works into being.  This law also defines what those works are, and how they may be used by others.  Creative works can include any of the following:

  • Literary works (including almost all text-based media, to include computer code)
  • Musical scores and lyrics
  • Plays and dramas (including accompany music)
  • Choreographies
  • Paintings, drawings, photos, sculptures and other graphic or visual works
  • Movies and videos
  • Sound recordings
  • Architectural works

In order to be covered under copyright law, a creative work must be “fixed in tangible form”.  This means that the work must be written down, recorded on video or audio, painted, drawn, or saved as a file. 

The work must be able to be “copied”.  In other words, it cannot be just an idea, process, method, concept, or principle.  It has to be a physical creation that is in some sort of permanent state that allows it to be perceived, copied, or transferred to other people.

When a person creates one of these works, that creative work is protected by the copyright law from the moment it is created.  You may want to register your work with the copyright office for additional protections, but registration is not necessary in order for a work to be protected.

The person or group who created the work is the owner of the copyright.  

The exception to this is when a work is created as part of the regular duties of employment or under a contract.  This is referred to as work made for hire.  In this case, the employer or entity who commissioned the work owns the copyright.  Auburn University’s copyright policies provide more freedom than generally allowed under law.  Please refer to the university’s copyright policies for more details and clarification.

Rights of the Copyright Owner

Copyright protects the author's (the person who created the work) rights to do the following:

  • Create derivative works (such as translations, motion picture versions, dramatizations, condensations, etc.)
  • Copy or reproduce the work
  • Distribute copies of the work (selling, licensing, or giving away copies)
  • Perform or display the work in public or digitally
  • Decide who else is allowed to do these things

Length of Copyright Protection

Works are generally protected by copyright for seventy years after the life of the author or creator of the work.  If the work was created by a corporate or pseudonymous entity, it is protected for 95 years after its publication or 120 years after its creation (whichever is shorter).  Works published before 1923 are generally considered to be no longer protected by copyright (with some exceptions).  Works published between 1923 and 1963 have various statuses of coverage by copyright laws.  For more information, see the Public Domain section of this Web site. 


Copyright Basics


Copyright Law: The full text of the US copyright laws from the US Copyright Office.

Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States: Details on how long copyright protection lasts on different types of works.

Copyright Duration: A flyer from the US Copyright Office which explains how long copyright lasts in different situations.