Office of Research & Sponsored Programs

Frequently Asked Questions about Copyright

  1. What does copyright protect?

  2. When is my work protected?

  3. Do I have to register with the Copyright Office to be protected?

  4. Why should I register my work if copyright protection is automatic?

  5. How do I register my copyright?

  6. Do I have to renew my copyright?

  7. Does my work have to be published to be protected?

  8. Can I copyright the name of my band?

  9. How to I copyright a name, title, slogan, or logo?

  10. How do I protect my idea?

  11. How long does copyright last?

  12. How much of someone else's work can I use without getting permission?

  13. What is a copyright notice? How do I put a copyright notice on my work?

  14. Somebody infringed my copyright. What can I do?

  15. Is my copyright good in other countries?

  16. How do I get permission to use someone else's work?

  17. Could I be sued for using some else's work? How about quotes or samples?

  1. Copyright protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not project facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.

  2. Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form so that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.

  3. No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You must register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work.

  4. Registration is recommended for a number of reasons. Many choose to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney's fees in successful litigation. Finally, if registration occurs within five years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law.

  5. To register a work, you must submit a completed application form for a non-refundable online filing fee of $35 and a non-returnable copy or copies of the work to be registered. See U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 2 (PDF) for the basics of copyright registration.

  6. No. Works created on or after January 1, 1978, are not subject to renewal registration. As to works published or registered prior to January 1, 1978, renewal registration is optional after 28 years but does provide certain legal advantages. For information on how to file a renewal application as well as the legal benefit of doing so, see U.S. Copyright Office Circular 15a (PDF).

  7. No. Publication is not necessary for copyright protection.

  8. No. Names are not protected by copyright law. Some names may be protected under trademark law. Contact the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office at (800) 786-9199 for further information.

  9. Copyright does not protect names, titles, slogans, or short phrases. In some cases, these things may be protected as trademarks. Contact the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office at (800) 786-9199 for further information. However, copyright protection may be available for logo art work that contains sufficient authorship. In some circumstances, an artistic logo may also be protected as a trademark.

  10. Copyright does not protect ideas, concepts, systems, or methods of doing something. You may express your ideas in writing or drawings and claim copyright of your description, but be aware that copyright will not protect the idea itself as revealed in your written or artistic work.

  11. The Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act (PDF), signed into law on October 27, 1998, amends the provisions concerning duration of copyright protection. Effective immediately, the terms of copyright are generally extended for an additional 20 years. Specific provisions are as follows:

    • For works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection will endure for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. In the case of a joint work, the term lasts for 70 years after the last surviving author's death. For anonymous works and works made for hire, the term will be 95 years from the year of first publication or 120 years from the years of creation, whichever expires first;

    • For works created but not published or registered before January 1, 1978, the term endures for life of the author plus 70 years, but in no case will expire earlier than December 31, 2002. If the work is published before December 31, 2002, the term will not expire before December 31, 2047;

    • For pre-1978 works still in their original or renewal term of copyright, the total term is extended to 95 years from the date that copyright was originally secured. For further information, see U.S. Copyright Office Circular 15t (PDF).    

  12. Under the fair use doctrine of the U.S. copyright statute, it is permissible to use limited portions of a work, including quotes, for purposes such as commentary, criticism, news reporting, and scholarly reports. There are no legal rules permitting the use of a specific number of words, a certain number of musical notes, or percentages of a work. Whether a particular use qualifies as fair use depends on all the circumstances. See U.S. Copyright Office Circular 21 (PDF) and U.S. Copyright Office Fair Use Index.

  13. A copyright notice is an identifier placed on copies of the work to inform the world of copyright ownership. While use of a copyright notice was once required as a condition of copyright protection, it is now optional. Use of the notice is the responsibility of the copyright owner, and does not require advance permission from, or registration with, the Copyright Office. See U.S. Copyright Office Circular 3 - Copyright Notice (PDF) for requirements for works published before March 1, 1989 and for more information on the form and position of the copyright notice. 

  14. A party may seek to protect his or her copyrights against unauthorized use by filing a civil lawsuit in Federal District Court. If you believe that your copyright has been infringed, consult an attorney. In cases of willful infringement for profit, the U.S. Attorney may initiate a criminal investigation.

  15. The United States has copyright relations with more than 100 countries, and, as a result of these agreements, we honor each other's citizens' copyrights. However, the United States does not have such copyright relationships with every country. For a listing of countries and the nature of their copyright relations with the United States, see U.S. Copyright Office Circular 38a - International Copyright Relations of the United States (PDF).

  16. You can ask for it. If you know who the copyright holder is, you may contact the owner directly. If you are uncertain about the ownership or have other related questions, you may wish to request that the Copyright Office conduct a search of its records for a fee of $200 (per hour, 2 hour minimum). Additional information can be found in U.S. Copyright Office Circular 22 (PDF) - How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work.

  17. If you use a copyrighted work without authorization, the owner may be entitled to bring an infringement action against you. There are circumstances under the fair use doctrine where a quote or a sample may be used without permission. However, in cases of doubt, the Copyright Office recommends that permission be obtained.