Does copyright protect my works?
Copyright protects "original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression . . . from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated." See Copyright Basics for more information about what is covered by copyright and how long it lasts.
What do I need to do to copyright my work?
Your work is automatically copyrighted as soon as it is "fixed in any tangible medium of expression." Fixation covers everything from a document saved on your computer to each stroke of a brush. You do not need to affix a formal copyright notice (e.g. ©), nor do you need to register the work with the US Copyright Office. However, if you are creating an original work yourself, registering with the Copyright Office does provide some benefits.
Who owns the copyright to my work?
Generally, you own the copyright to what you create. There are some exceptions:
- The first exception is works "made for hire." A work made for hire is generally a work created as part of job responsibility rather than out of self-motivation. When a work is made for hire, the copyright rests with the employer.
Indiana University's Intellectual Property Policy outlines when a work is considered a work-for-hire. Generally, an article or book that you write as part of your research is considered your own.
- The second exception is if you've given away or transferred your copyright. As the creator, you can "assign" your copyright to another through a contract made before or after creating the work.
Copyrights can be transferred, in whole or in part, to another person or entity. This would cover things like publishing in a journal or a book contract.
What exclusive rights do I get from copyright law?
Copyright law gives you the exclusive right to reproduce the copyrighted work, prepare derivative works, distribute the work, and display or perform the work publicly. You are also given the exclusive ability to sell, license, or otherwise authorize others to exercise these rights. Copyright law does contain several limitations to these enumerated exclusive rights, but you do have control over much of your work.
Copyright not only grants you several exclusive rights over your work, but also the ability to sell or transfer all or a portion of these exclusive rights.