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Copyright Guide: Overview

Legal Disclaimer

This web guide  presents general information about copyright law for educational purposes. The library makes every effort to assure the accuracy of this information but does not offer it as legal counsel or advice. Consult the services of a licensed attorney for advice concerning your specific situation.

Contact Information: If you have questions, please contact Lori Ricigliano.

What does copyright protect?

Copyright protects works of authorship, including:

  • literary works, including software programs and their documentation
  • musical works
  • dramatic works
  • pantomimes and choreographic works
  • pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  • motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • sound recordings
  • architectural works, including plans, drawings, and the buildings

What is not protected by copyright?

  • titles, names, short phrases, or slogans
  • facts or ideas
  • works that have passed into the public domain
  • works of the United States government
  • procedures, methods, systems, or processes

How long does copyright last?

As a general rule, for works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. For an anonymous work, a pseudonymous work, or a work made for hire, the copyright endures for a term of 95 years from the year of its first publication or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first. For works first published prior to 1978, the term will vary depending on several factors.

After the copyright term expires, works enter the public domain (see chart) and can be used without permission.  Also try these interactive tools to determine whether a work is protected by copyright:

Public Domain Slider Tool to quickly identify if a work is in the public domain.

The Copyright Genie Tool to help you find out if a work is covered by U.S. copyright, calculate its terms of protection, and publish the results (as a PDF) to save for your records

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