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What can't be copyrighted?


  • Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, and processes.
  • Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans.                       
  • Facts, news, and research.
  • Works in the public domain.
  • Works that are not fixed in a tangible medium of expression.

Copyright in the News

Scope of the Guide

This guide provides basic information about copyright, fair use, the public domain, and offers links to websites to learn more about copyright issues. 

Please note: Information provided on this site does not constitute legal advice and is posted for informational purposes only! Please consult an attorney for legal advice.

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.


Copyright is a form of intellectual property.

The U.S. Copyright Office defines copyright as:

  • A set of exclusive rights awarded to a copyright holder or owner for an original and creative work of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression.
  • A limited statutory monopoly that gives a copyright holder the sole right to market a work for a limited period of time.
  • Copyright also includes exemptions that permit a user of the copyright-protected work the right to exercise an exclusive right without authorization or royalty payment under certain conditions.

(Source: U.S. Copyright Office, "Copyright Basics" -


How long does copyright last?

For works published after 1977, the copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years.

However, if the work is a work for hire (that is, the work is done in the course of employment or has been specifically commissioned) or is published anonymously or under a pseudonym, the copyright lasts between 95 and 120 years, depending on the date the work is published.

All works published in the United States before 1923 are in the public domain. Works published after 1922, but before 1978 are protected for 95 years from the date of publication. If the work was created, but not published, before 1978, the copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years.

Adapted from Stanford University Libraries Copyright Basics


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Aleck Williams
Subject Areas: Math, Healthcare, Paralegal Studies, and Science

Copyright Video Series from the U.S. Copyright Office

What types of works does copyright protect?

In order to qualify for copyright protection, the work must be "fixed in a tangible medium of expression.In other words, it must be in any physical form or have been on paper or any other medium for some period of time, no matter how brief.

The following works are protected by copyright: poetry, movies, video games, plays, paintings, sheet music, recorded music performances, novels, software code, sculptures, photographs, choreography, and architectural designs.

Copyright does not protect ideas or facts.

Adapted from Stanford University Libraries Copyright Basics


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