Search FAQs

No, a work does not have to be published or registered with the United States Copyright Office to receive copyright protection. A work simply has to be “fixed in a tangible medium of expression” to be copyrighted. It also only must convey a modicum of creativity to be copyrighted. Thus, even notes one takes down on a napkin in a coffee shop are instantly given copyright protection.

Co-authors share an undivided ownership in copyright. Each co-author may utilize or license for use the entire work, but he or she must account to his or her co-author for any acquired profits. Each co-author is prohibited from granting an exclusive right to utilize a work without all co-authors' consent.

  • Works eligible for copyright protection are currently given such protection for the life of the creator plus seventy years.

  • Works that are deemed to be "works made for hire" are given copyright protection for either 95 years from the date of publication, or 120 years from creation of such work, whichever is lesser.

  • Works created prior to 1923 are considered to be in the Public Domain and they do not have any copyright protection.

  • Works created between 1923 and 1978 may have copyright protection. For a detailed list of the copyright protection durations for works created between 1923 and 1978

Please see: Copyright Term and the Public Domain Chart in the United States, produced by Peter Hirtle at the Cornell Copyright Information Center, CC BY 3.0.

Determining whether the use of an image or picture is fair use is complex. Traditionally, courts have held that educational, con-commercial use of materials is fair use, however it is important to consider all four factors of fair use together. Please refer to the fair use section of our copyright guide, which explains the four factors and provides other helpful resources.

Copyright infringement is the act of violating any of a copyright owner’s exclusive rights granted by the federal Copyright Act. This happens when a copyrighted work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without the permission of the copyright owner.